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Nevada

Nevada was slow to report the presence of influenza. This was not surprising. Many states, especially rural ones had difficulties assembling staff and getting them to report diseases even before the 1918-1919 pandemic. Nevada, which was the smallest state in the Union in terms of its population, had never been consistent in reporting to the Public Health Service.

A black and white photograph of an Indian dwelling in a rural area.  Text below the image reads “Another type of dwelling in Virginia City.  In this shack I found four people lying on the dirt floor wrapped in rags apparently all suffering from influenza.  I was told they had refused medicine from the white doctor and Dick Mauwee, a Paiute enrolled at Pyramid Lake Reservation, was the doctor.  The small four-light window admitted the only light.  It was nailed tight, the only door was kept shut tight and no ventilation was attempted or was possible.  The stench which greeted us when we entered was most horrible and could be endured but a short time.  An Indian had just been taken from this structure for burial.  The father of this family was the Indian alluded to on another page as a “walking case.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs found themselves overwhelmed as influenza swept through the state’s reservations. Influenza swept through rural reservations, killing thousands in its wake.[Credit: The Library of Congress]

On October 15th, public health officials sent their first report to the PHS admitting that there were at least 38 cases of influenza in the state. Eleven days later, state officials reported new cases while noting that deaths from influenza were occurring across the state. By late November, Nevada had ceased to report to the Public Health Service. The disease had not yet disappeared from the state, however.

The response of officials and communities varied. In Elko County, school teacher Eleanor Holland found herself in a region where everyone was made to wear a face mask in the hope that the disease would be contained. Originally, Holland found the idea of wearing a mask ludicrous but she quickly changed her mind, noting "it didn't seem so funny when I came down with the flu and nearly died. Fortunately, none of the other teachers got it though they all helped take care of me." The masks of the early 20th century did little to prevent the spread of influenza.

Some state officials wanted to establish quarantine stations at the state's borders to prevent the disease from spreading further into Nevada. As in other states and localities, there were bans on public gatherings in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading. In White Pine County, for example, a county-wide quarantine was imposed on October 12th and this was in effect until December 28th.

The disease slowly declined in the state during the late fall, resurging in the winter and gradually disappearing in the summer of 1919.

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