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When Winter Came – 1918 Flu Pandemic

by Mary Anderson on 2023-09-04T07:00:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

The 1918 influenza outbreak, caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus, was the deadliest pandemic ever recorded at that time. An estimated 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population – were infected. At least 50 million people died worldwide, including about 675,000 in the United States. Young adults between 20 and 40 years old, usually little affected by these types of infectious diseases, were among the hardest hit, along with the elderly and young children.

Occurring at the end of World War I, fatigue, malnourishment, and overcrowding likely contributed to mortality rates. Soldiers were especially susceptible living in crowded conditions – more US soldiers died from the flu than were killed in battle. Troop movements also helped spread the virus.

Despite their relative isolation, rural communities were not immune from its effects. One such community was Titonka, Iowa. The townspeople there were under the care of Dr. Pierre Sartor. He recorded his experiences in a handwritten memoir entitled, “Thrills of my life, specifically my ‘Flu Life.’” According to his accounts, he treated more than 1,100 patients with only five deaths. His prescription was to wear a mask, practice hygiene and isolation, and be kind.

Decades after its writing Sartor’s memoir was discovered by his granddaughter, Mary Beth Sartor Obermeyer, in a lockbox filled with family documents. After extensive family research she used his work as the foundation for a book on his life. To learn more, join us for an Author Talk, Thursday, September 14, 4-6 pm in the MARC 3rd Floor Commons. Also check out our book display on the 1918 flu pandemic that includes Obermeyer’s book, When Winter Came.

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