Wednesday, December 14, 2016

California and North Carolina Outbreaks of Flu, 1940

“Where Do We Stand on ‘Flu’?” from the New York Times, Dec. 3, 1940

Because there is a lack of reports on influenza throughout the country it is difficult for officials of the United States Public Health Service to decide whether or not the California outbreak can be localized. Apparently it can be. But whether or not, this is the time to review the progress made in handling a disease which took an estimate twenty millions of lives in 1918 and which may assume pandemic proportions at any time.

The California epidemic does not even remotely approach terrifying proportions. There have been comparatively few deaths. If the country is alarmed it is because there is no practical way of examining every person in an infected area and quarantining the sick. Moreover, these are the days of airplane, railway and steamship—the days when epidemics can spread like prairie fires.

Fortunately, California is dealing with a mild type of influenza. So far as this department can gather there are probably not 6,000 cases at the present time on the West Coast. The epidemic has receded in the San Diego area, but has increased somewhat in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
At the last meeting of the American Public Health Association, held in Detroit last October, Dr. Frank L. Horsfall Jr. of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division reported that neither virus nor antibodies could be associated with the 1940 epidemic of influenza that had swept North Carolina. “Influenza may not always be caused by one and the same agent,” he observed. As matters stand it must be said that sometimes a virus is the clear cause of influenza and that sometimes an unknown cause must be assumed. But there is no doubt that a virus is now at work in California.

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