When historian Ruth Holmes Whitehead began researching a book in 2017 that studies the outbreak of the Spanish flu in Nova Scotia a century ago, she had no idea she would eventually live in a pandemic.
“It’s awful because you kind of have it automatically [bad] feeling … how this is going to turn out, ”the author said Nova Scotia and the Great Influenza Pandemic, 1918-1920, which was released last November.
It is estimated that 50-100 million people died from the Spanish flu worldwide, while there were about 2,200 deaths in Nova Scotia.
To date, 65 deaths have been reported due to COVID-19 in Nova Scotia and more than 1.8 million globally.
Much like COVID-19 today, the Spanish flu was originally found in the province by travel and then spread from there. These included troops returning abroad from World War I, Massachusetts fishermen who landed here to sell fish and equipment, and even U.S. warships heading to Europe and unloading their patients before crossing the Atlantic. for the Great War.
The spread was also encouraged by gathering in crowds. One such case was a church service in Goshen, Guysborough County. The word did not exist then, but today it would be called a more widespread event.
Holmes Whitehead said Goshen Baptist Church burned down in August 1918 after being struck by lightning, so parishioners began meeting in a small school classroom on neighboring Lake Eight Island. The minister from Antigonis, NS, performed one of the services in a crowded room.
“Before he left, he infected an entire congregation of about 50 people, and he infected everyone in the house that hosted him … the deaths say only three people died – a young farmer, an elderly married woman and a baby – but it tells us nothing about the number of people in that general area who have fallen ill from this one person and this crowded situation, ”said Holmes Whitehead, who has worked for the Museum of Nova Scotia for almost 50 years.
Her research on the Spanish flu was used for an online museum exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the pandemic, but she collected so much additional data that the book was more appropriate for it all.
Some of the symptoms of the Spanish flu could be especially creepy.
“It appears with high fever and a feeling of terrible pain in all the joints and what has been described as driving a wedge into the head, right behind the eyes, and people have started bleeding from the nose, ears and eyes,” Holmes Whitehead said.
“They were basically overwhelmed with pain, and their lungs filled up and drowned in their own body fluids, and their bodies were so reduced in oxygen that often their hands and feet would turn blue,” she said.
“And some people everywhere turned blue, really dark blue, just because all the blood in their bodies was empty of oxygen.”
Both the Spanish flu and COVID-19 strains are H1N1 and, in the century that separates the two, little has changed in terms of the way society responds to them, such as wearing masks to prevent transmission.
“Our tools aren’t that different,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief health officer.
“We are closing things down. We are restricting public activities. We are telling people to stay at home. We may have a lot more fancy, modern medical tools, but at the end of the day, when it comes to something like a pandemic, that is the core of public health. years and probably won’t change for the next 100 years, which is a bit humble. “
Holmes Whitehead said that in addition to being possible to test on COVID-19, another difference today is that there are so many platforms to communicate with people about what is happening and what they should do.
“And if you keep punching them in the head, maybe some of it will sink in,” she said.
In the middle of the second wave, Holmes Whitehead continues to work on his apartment in Halifax to ward off the coronavirus pandemic – and it has a message for people.
“Stay inside and wear a mask and wash your hands and don’t be stupid,” Holmes Whitehead said. “You know, this isn’t a picnic, it’s not like the flu, it’s really awful. It can have lasting physiological, neurological effects that you really don’t want to go there.
“Please be careful.”
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