The Public Health Service believed that influenza was "prevalent throughout the State on October 1." The disease had undoubtedly erupted there during September. On October 7th, there were 2,500 cases in Omaha alone and 400 in Lincoln. A week later, the Public Health Service stated that cases of influenza "have been reported from nearly every county, some counties reporting from 250 to 500 cases a day." During the week ending October 19th, 160 deaths were registered in Omaha "where the condition is stated to be serious." These figures were probably inaccurate; during the pandemic, state officials were unable to track the disease effectively, with the result that many deaths and cases went unrecorded.
|Physicians from all over the state met in Lincoln, Nebraska to discuss the epidemic. c. 1901. [Credit: The Library of Congress]|
The pandemic peaked during the final week of October. That week, officials reported 20,835 cases of influenza and 1,495 deaths; the real numbers were probably much higher.
Throughout the pandemic, local authorities were overwhelmed, with the result that they were often unable to provide the Public Health Service with accurate reports. In a letter to the Surgeon General dated December 23rd, a Nebraska official said "We have been after local boards of health so much to get influenza reported and have them [the statistics] properly organized, that we do not have the nerve to ask for anything more. We do trust you will forgive us in this respect. Local boards are so busy, Influenza so bad, people after us so hard, that we do not know what more to do."
On October 9th, the former governor of the state, James Dawes, died of pneumonia; his pneumonia was probably a complication of influenza.
On October 21st, the Nebraska State Board of Health placed a ban on all public gatherings.
In Hastings, on October 10th, the mayor ordered theaters, churches, schools, pool rooms, and card rooms to be closed. Hastings College was quarantined. Fearing that students would attempt to break the quarantine, military pickets were placed around the perimeter of the college to prevent students from leaving. Despite this measure, the college continued to allow students who had family in town to visit them, thereby rendering the quarantine ineffective.
|Crowds like this one in De Witt, Nebraska were to be strictly avoided during the epidemic. c. 1908. [Credit: The Library of Congress]|
Although there were no cures or preventatives, desperate times called for desperate measures. In Hastings, citizens relied on a range of different home remedies, including the wearing of garlic amulets. In other areas of the state, people turned to Tanlac, a "powerful reconstructive tonic." Vicks VapoRub, Vancoa, a medicated salve, and Dr. Pierce's "Golden Medical Discovery" were also popular. None of these remedies were effective.
In Omaha, all schools, except the area's colleges, were closed. Public gatherings were banned and church services were moved outside. By Oct. 20th, even outdoor church services were banned by the governor.
Creighton Medical College was closed Nov. 11 and members of the Students' Army Training Corps found themselves under quarantine.
Rural doctors, who had to travel great distances to care for their patients, were especially taxed. In Kenesaw, one doctor went days with little sleep, caring for 500 flu victims in the space of a few days. In Bennington, residents watched as a local doctor slept in the front seat of his buggy; his horse guided him to the next call.
In Enderline, an old railway hotel became an emergency hospital. In the absence of a professional staff, the emergency hospital was staffed by fifteen local teenagers.
On December 17th, physicians from across the state met in Lincoln to discuss the epidemic. The consensus among the participants was that there had been 2,807 deaths from influenza between September and December. This figure was undoubtedly an underestimate.
Moreover, the pandemic had not yet ended. Rates of influenza did begin to decline in the late fall of 1918 but the disease remained pervasive throughout the state during the winter and spring. It was not until the summer that the disease began to disappear from the state.