What do we do when the flu comes to Larimer County?
In 1918 the Spanish flu arrived here, via WWI servicemen, with our first cases presenting at CSU (Colorado Agricultural College in those days). Surprisingly, it wasn’t the elderly and sickly who died from it. Rather it was those with the strongest immune systems–teens to 30-year-olds.
To keep the disease from spreading, we closed public schools, theaters, lodges, and halls from October through December of that year. To manage those who were already sick, a temporary hospital was set up in the engineering building at CSU.
Then we forbid loitering downtown.
By November, we required masks worn at public indoor gatherings.
By December, “the number of customers in business houses was limited to eight or one each 100 square feet,” according to the Fort Collins Express. “Violators fined $300 plus costs.”
Finally, we enlisted the new infirmary over at the County Poor Farm to take our sick. (After the epidemic, the infirmary, on what’s now Lemay, went on to be our current hospital).
So how bad were we hit? In Loveland, which had a population of 5000 at the time, about 1.3% of the population died from the flu according to Larimer County Health.
Strong immune systems were prone to overreact to the virus, something the health community calls a “cytokine storm.” With the current swine flu, that same cytokine response worries some at the Centers for Disease Control most.
But before you get too worried, I think you and everybody else should download this 2005 powerpoint presentation from the Larimer County Health Department.
Written in more level-headed times, the presentation explains how the flu progressed in 1918. But more importantly, it explains what measures we had to fight it then, what measures we have now, and why we are in some ways less prepared now, but in most ways, more so.
Hospital photo: University Historic Photograph Collection, http://lib.colostate.edu/archives/historic_photos.html, Colorado State University, Archives and Special Collections
Anna May Abbott photo: Fort Collins Museum Archives. http://history.fcgov.com