By ganerationlmn 10 Min Read
Spanish Flu Mother of Pandemics.

Spanish flu was a pandemic that took place between 1918 and 1919. Reaching all continents and leaving a balance of at least 50 million dead. They do not know its origin. People suspect that it may have originated in China, the United Kingdom, or the United States. We know that it started from a mutation of the Influenza virus (H1N1), which birds spread to humans.

First Case

The United States registered the first cases in a military installation in Kansas (Fort Riley). When soldier Albert Gitchell presented the symptoms of the flu, on March 11, 1918. After a few weeks, the virus infected more than 1,100 military personnel. Later, they detected cases in factory workers in Detroit. The Spanish flu spread around the world mainly due to the movement of troops during the 1st World War. With a direct impact on the countries that participated in that conflict. These countries did not publish news about the disease. The North American President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) censored the press to prevent them from reporting the deaths. Since Spain was not directly involved in the conflict. The news about the disease came from there, and that is why it became known as “Spanish”.



After German torpedoes sank their cargo ships, Brazilian President Wenceslaus Bráz declared war on the reign of William II. In mid-1918, he sent 28 young officers to the French front under the command of a general, and a medical mission established a “Brazilian hospital” near Paris. The mission comprised 86 doctors, including civilians and soldiers, who joined six doctors already working in France. While en route to Europe, the fleet anchored in Dakar (Senegal), exposing them to the unknown and invisible enemy, the influenza virus, which infected the crew. Of the approximately 1,200 men on the six ships, 1,000 fell ill and 156 died.

The ship that carried the Spanish flu

In September 1918, the British mail “Demerara”, coming from Lisbon and with stopovers in Dakar, Recife, and Salvador, arrived in Rio de Janeiro. On board, there were two hundred crew members in various stages of the disease – the flu came down from the ship carried by the sailors and soon spread throughout the city and the country, as there were no medicines to combat it. The spread was fast and affected, above all, the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Although these were the two most affected cities, the influenza pandemic affected the entire country, including remote regions such as the Amazon. Researchers estimate that two-thirds of São Paulo’s population (350 thousand people) became infected, resulting in 5,331 deaths. Rio de Janeiro had about 12,700 deaths, a third of the deaths in Brazil.


In a letter written at the time of the pandemic (1918-1919), but only published in the British Medical Journal almost 60 years later, an American doctor described:

“It starts like the simple flu but a few hours later you can begin to see the cyanosis extending over the entire face from the ears until it becomes difficult to distinguish the male. Black from white. Death arrives in a few hours and happens simply like a lack of air until they die of suffocation. It’s horrible. Watching one, two, or 20 men die is one thing, but seeing these poor devils dropping like flies is exasperating.”


At that time, they did not know about respirators or antibiotics, and existing microscopes could not see viruses. There was no effective treatment: doctors prescribed quinine, a medicine used for malaria, and the population used preparations based on lavender, lemon, coconut, onion, port wine, sorrel salt, cachaça, and rolling tobacco. The Bayer laboratory publicized Phenacetin, “shot and fall against influenza, well-being with the speed of lightning”.

Effective measures to prevent contagion were the use of masks, quarantine, and social isolation with the closure of schools, public offices, theaters, cinemas, clubs, commerce, and churches. The authorities recommended that the population avoid crowds, frequently wash their hands, and avoid intimate contact. They also asked people not to cough, sneeze, or blow their nose in public, to avoid trains, trams, and buses, and to walk if possible.


Scientist Carlos Chagas, chosen to lead the fight against the pandemic, managed to install five emergency hospitals and 27 service stations. Despite preventive measures and new hospitals and posts, mass deaths occurred, which had serious consequences.

The lack of hospital beds compelled the hospitals to overcrowd patients on the floors of wards and corridors, resulting in many patients dying before receiving treatment. Hospitals prohibited visitors, and at burials, only the closest relatives were permitted to attend. Funeral homes could not handle the number of deceased – there was a lack of coffins, due to a lack of wood and personnel to manufacture them. People died, and others left their bodies at the doors of houses, waiting for wagons or trucks to pick them up. In some instances, people presumed dead were found to still be breathing and were finished off with shovels. There were also cases of burying people alive. In morgues, bodies piled up for days on marble tables or on the floor. Those picked up from the street without identification were dumped in mass graves or burned.

There were so many patients that many activities suffered because there was no one to perform them: selling food, transporting products, and giving injections. With no operators to give them lines, the phones went dead. And then came the lack of products and inflation: an egg started to cost the price of a chicken; and a loaf, that of a whole basket. When the lack of milk, meat, and eggs became general, the looting of butchers and warehouses began.

Social classes and poor people

It did not distinguish between social classes, poor people, and also from important families, such as the Nabuco, the Mello Franco, two of the Lage brothers (Jorge and Antônio, who dominated maritime navigation in Brazil with their “itas”), the ace Belfort Duarte (a player for América de Rio de Janeiro, inventor of the “sem-pulo” kick) and even the president of the republic Rodrigues Alves, re-elected in the 1918 presidential election, who died in January 1919. More than 35,000 died in Brazil. In France, among his victims were the playwright Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac, and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.  From Austria, Sophie was the daughter of Sigmund Freud.  German, economist Max Weber.  Portuguese children Francisco and Jacinta, from the miracle of Fatima. In the United States, Rose Cleveland, sister of President Grover Cleveland; and John and Horace Dodge of the auto industry.

END OF THE Spanish flu

Suddenly, at the end of October 1918, the Spanish began to subside in Brazil. The infected recovered, the sick stopped dying, and little by little, life returned to normal. The war also went away. On November 11, inside a dining car on the banks of the Oise River. A tributary of the Seine River, in France, the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice. Brazil was among the victorious countries. Having no one to sell coffee to during the conflict, Brazilians diversified their agricultural production. As they had no one to buy manufactures from, they began to produce them right here – in a short time. Chimneys appeared in the cities and a working-class embryo formed. By recently arrived immigrants. And out of a new mass of civil servants, a middle class emerged.

Coronavirus and worst Pandemic in history.

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