World-Wide Flu Kills 50 Million; North Dakota Deaths Near 1,400
November 30, 1918
The worst of it seems to be over. After being closed since early October, the state’s churches, schools, and movie theaters are again open. The ban on public gatherings has been lifted, and residents are trying to return to normal lives after several terrifying and fear-filled weeks.
The Spanish influenza spread from nation to nation and town to town with unbelievable speed. Sixteen million people died in India, a half-million in Germany, over a half-million in the United States. It moved like a wildfire from the East Coast, killing 9,000 in Boston and 12,000 in Philadelphia during late September and early October.
Then, like lightning it struck North Dakota. On September 27 Fargo’s health officer reported no flu cases in the city. Six days later more than 100 people had contracted the deadly virus. In Jamestown, the count was more than a thousand in three days. Eighty percent of Dickinson’s population became sick. Even the remotest of communities could not avoid the Spanish flu. Apprehension gripped the state as health officials handed out masks, ordered fines against those who coughed in public without covering their mouths, and closed down public gathering places. Hospitals overflowed with flu victims. In Ramsey County six nurses died while attending to patients. Death from this aggressive flu strain has been commonplace: 173 in Fargo, 76 in Dickinson, 123 in Jamestown, 36 in New Rockford, and 1,378 total in North Dakota - all within a few weeks!
Those who have tended to the dying describe flu death in words such as horrific and gruesome. A very high fever and terrible shakes accompany the shutting down of bodily functions and the buildup of fluid and blood in the lungs. Some bleed from the ears, nose, and mouth. Most gradually turn blue as they seemingly drown in their own bodies. No one knows why 70 percent of the flu fatalities have occurred among young adults between the ages of 18 and 35. North Dakotans have gone through weeks of torment.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.
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