Dear Readers, 

I hope this column finds you in good health and that you have been productive as you quarantine.

Nearly 102 years ago the world experienced the 1918 H1N1 Influenza, which bears striking similarities to Covid-19. In 1918 Cincinnati quarantining was mandatory and our Jewish Community cooperated fully. The kindred spirits of these two pandemics has led a friend of mine to refer to today’s Coronavirus as Déjà Flu. Though one pandemic in the world would have been enough, dayenu, I can assure you that just as the Influenza of 1918 passed, this too shall pass. And just as The American Israelite keeps you up to date on what our Jewish community is doing to deal with this pandemic - 102 years ago The American Israelite was there to help the Jewish Community of our forbearers.

The 1918 H1N1 Flu Pandemic, then referred to as the Spanish Influenza, infected five hundred million people worldwide, nearly one-third of the population, between January 1918 and December 1920 with a death toll estimated to be as high as a hundred million. First noted in military camps in France, the outbreak  originated in Camp Funston (now Fort Riley) in Kansas when a company cook reported sick. It was attributed to Spain because Spain’s WWI neutrality allowed newspapers to report on the epidemic. It is now considered inappropriate and inaccurate to refer to the 1918 Influenza as the Spanish Flu.

Just like Covid-19, the 1918 H1N1 was of avian origin. The one striking difference between Covid-19, the 1918 H1N1 Flu was the latter’s innate ability to ravage the strong immune systems of healthy 20-40 year-olds, particularly devastating to soldiers who were fighting and living in cramped quarters. 

On September 11, 1918, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that during the last week of August an influenza outbreak had started in Boston and was making its way down the coast. Initially Cincinnatians were told the virus was rather benign, only to learn later it was surprisingly fatal.

On October 3rd, Cincinnati Health Officer Dr. William H. Peters, ordered the wearing of masks and put into place disinfecting measures. Residents were told to stay home, refrain from visiting soldiers in the nearby army camps, and to stay away from theaters, movie houses and public meetings.

Just days later the situation became more dire.  On October 5th, Cincinnati Mayor John Galvin ordered all schools, theaters, churches and movie houses closed. Just as today there were to be no public or private meetings, either inside or outside. Saloons were permitted to remain open for the purchase of bottled drinks to be consumed off-premises.

As with any important event effecting Jewish people in Cincinnati and around the world, The American Israelite ran coverage of the emerging threat.  The first such report was published on October 3, 1918:                           

Dr. Nathan L. Saltzman, instructor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati, has received a message from the Public Health Service at Washington to report immediately at Boston to take up the fight against the Spanish Influenza. Dr. Saltzman who is a member of the volunteer Medical Corps, left for Boston within a few hours after receiving the telegram.  

– October 3, 1918

A week later in the October 10, 1918 issue of The American Israelite there were numerous postings referring to the influenza outbreak beginning on page 2:

On account of the influenza epidemic at Camp Zachary, the dances and Sunday night supper for the soldiers of Jewish faith, at the Y.M.H.A [Young Men’s Hebrew Association] have been called off for the past two weeks.

– October 10, 1918

Page 6:

A special dispatch from Chillicothe to the Enquirer contains the following information: “The canteen work, and the sad task of offering words of consolation to sorrowing parents who are called here by the illness and death of their sons, which was under taken Monday by the Red Cross and has been taken over by the Jewish Welfare Board. The Influenza situation continues to improve in Chillicothe. 

Page 7:

Here are the Rules:

1. All Colds, however slight, should be treated as possible attacks of Influenza. Patients affected by colds should stay at home and sterilize discharge from the nose and throat.

2. Avoid feeling or spreading of the disease.

3. Avoid crowds.

4. Regulate bodily functions and keep them so.

5. Avoid the breath or expelled secretions from people suffering from colds.

6. Wash out the nose and throat for three times daily by a nasal spray or douche and by gargle with “normal salt solution” (one-half spoonful salt to one glass [8 ounces] clean water).

7. All those in attendance on patients with influenza should wear masks.

8. Clothing should be warm and dry.

9. Food simple and easily digested.

10. Drink water freely.

Lastly there was a call-out for volunteer nurses who could expect to receive compensation for their expenses anywhere from $30 to $75 per month. 

– October 10, 1918

By the end of October the city was being petitioned by clergy, the zoo and the Symphony among others, all rejected. Nothing was opened until November 11th, 6 weeks after the quarantine began. 

Strikingly and frighteningly similar, hence the suggestion - Déjà Flu!

Unfortunately after the city opened new cases and deaths rose causing the need for a second, shorter quarantine starting in December. All told there were estimates of a hundred thousand cases of the H1N1 Flu and nearly a thousand seven hundred deaths. The quarantine of Cincinnati saved lives but the economy suffered. Let’s just hope that one quarantine will be enough to fight today’s Deja Flu – dayenu!

I will continue to research the 1918 H1N1 Influenza and its effects on the Jewish community of Cincinnati, and report back to you next month. 

So, as we face this current pandemic, just as The American Israelite did 102 years ago, know that we will continue to keep you abreast of all the news that members of the Jewish community will need to know to stay safe and connected.  Let There Be Light as we flight this battle together.

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