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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Medical - Pandemic/Spanish Flu


In 1918-1919, when the Spanish influenza pandemic swept the globe, Australians - with their peculiar sense of humour – devised unique ways of dealing with the apparatus and cures popular at the time.  For example, hideous faces were painted onto the face mask, or, kewpie dolls and huge wire spiders hung from the sides.  However, ladies of fashion used the masks as fashion accessories and rather than the small cheese cloth styles that were in general use, the fashionable dames wore flowing gossamer veils - much like a Yashmak - with only their eyes visible.
Cases of mistaken identity were often reported, like the gentleman who escorted his wife’s maid to a picture entertainment thinking she was his wife.  It would seem his wife found the story somewhat hard to believe. The masks came in every shape and size; there were narrow masks, flat masks and even curved masks. Life-long friends were snubbed, while total strangers were accosted.  Moustaches even went out of fashion for a time because the masks were uncomfortable in hot weather.
Closer to home, the Echo newspaper columnist expressed relief that wearing the mask was not compulsory in Katoomba.  She stated:
       “ I spent last week-end in Sydney and my dear  heart bled for the poor souls doomed to wear the disfiguring gauze for the next couple of months.  You never saw such a ridiculous sight in all your existence as those hordes of scurrying human ants, muffled up as though a plague of toothache had suddenly attacked the community.”


Treatments and care were equally bizarre and included the use of Wawn’s Wonder Wool and Wonder Balm, Glaxo, Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure, Heezo and Hean’s Tonic, Nerve Nuts, Bovril, and Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills. Titan Hot Water Bags and Mac’s boots and shoes were also said to be useful.  Other remedies – equally as strange - were promoted by a ‘Mother of Seven’ in the Echo.  She recommended:
“camphor or aconitum, and if afterwards necessary, arsenicum, if combined with great lassitude, with copious, watery acrid discharge.  Diet and regimen: Beef tea and farinaceous food, with repose in bed, or confinement, warmly clad, in a room with plenty of fresh air.  During fever, loss of appetite etc. toast and water or barley water will be most suitable adopting as the fever abates a generous diet.’
A Melbourne physician - suggested another correspondent - recommended the use of cinnamon as an effect prophylactic.  As a cure he suggested “one teaspoon of ground cinnamon in whisky.  Stand about half an hour and add milk.”  A Swiss correspondent strongly advised the use of onions as a preventive against influenza.  He suggested that germs could not live on anyone who ate raw onions and that was why the Swiss were a healthy race.  Doctors in inoculation centres were furnished with strict guidance procedures and were advised to paint the entire upper arm with a tincture of Iodine before and after the jab.
The pandemic - thought to have been brought back by soldiers returning from the Great War - caused over 12,000 deaths in Australia.  It peaked in the Winter of 1919 but started to abate by the following February. 
Shirley Evans
* This is a brief account taken from The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 In The Blue Mountains (And Lithgow)
now out of print.
  
  

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