How Australia Prevented the Devastating1918-19 Spanish Influenza
The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 has been quoted as one of the most ravaging outbreaks recorded in the history of the world. The epidemic had killed 20 to 40 million people, more than in World War I and more than the number of deaths recorded in the four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.
Origin of the disease
The disease was named ‘Spanish Influenza’ but it did not originate in Spain. Its origin was in the United States of America. But it slowly moved to the general population throughout the world.
How the disease affected
The disease spread with surprising speed affecting the body’s natural defence. It caused hemorrhage filling the lungs resulting in the victim’s death in his own body fluids. Healthy individuals affected in the morning used to die in the evening. It always attacked young healthy adults rather than the old and the unwell – a reverse of the normal mortality pattern.
Spanish Influenza in Melbourne
The disease broke out in Melbourne in December 1918 but people were asked not to panic by local authorities. The health authorities adopted strict measures to limit its impact on the population of Melbourne. Being aware of the horrifying effect on people in Europe, the preventive measures of the local authorities saved Melbourne from facing the devastation as in Europe or America.
Preventive measures adopted in Melbourne
Due to the preventive measures adopted in Melbourne, there was no major outbreak reported. But at the same time the disease has spread to Sydney. Dr William McClelland, the medical officer for Brighton, proposed to open an auxiliary hospital in the Wilson Recreation Hall in December, with separate wards for males and females. The hospital started functioning on February 22, 1919 and Nurse Powell became the matron assisted by a team of VAD nurses.
The epidemic in Victoria
In January 1919, Victoria was declared infected and schools and theatres were closed. People were asked to wear masks in shops, hotels, churches and public transport. Public meetings of twenty or more people and long distance travel by train were prohibited. An infected family was isolated and quarantine rules were applied. The New South Wales government closed their border with Victoria.
Emergency hospital set up in Victoria
Health Officers visited Mrs. O’Brien’s boarding house known as Barwon House and declared it as an emergency hospital with forty beds available at nominal cost. The Council established the hospital with a matron, two trained nurses, three VADs. Dr. Joyce and Dr. Scantlebury were appointed medical attendant.
By the end of 1919, the disease that had killed more than 20 million people worldwide started disappearing. People began to live life without the fear of being killed by the disease. The precautionary measures like wearing of masks, gloves, goggles and full body gown during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic prevented Australia from one of the worst tragedies of the world.