As you will have seen on the news, the world is currently facing an outbreak of the Ebola virus, centred in Africa. It is a terrible disease and governments are right to be concerned. It is a pity, though, that they were not concerned a lot sooner. As so often is the case, the rest of the world has to feel threatened (or totally shamed - see Band Aid circa 1984!) before serious situations in Third World countries get the attention they deserve.
Today, the BBC news website carried an article about Spanish Influenza. I can see why they did this - it was at the end of the First World War that the pandemic took hold plus it is an easy comparison to the Ebola outbreak. The article is very informative. I certainly knew very little about the outbreak in 1918/1919. I definitely did not know that it is estimated to have killed fifty million people worldwide.
The most recent modern day media reference to the Spanish 'flu outbreak was in Downton Abbey, when it very conveniently took away the fiancée who was getting in the way of the Lady Mary/Matthew Crawley, will they/won't they plot. [There she is above, poor Lavinia.]
I had been going, in this post, to question the wisdom of putting out the Spanish 'flu piece on the BBC website, for fear of stirring people up - after reading it, I felt informed but disturbed, to say the least. It made me cross with the Beeb and want to rant about tabloid style scare mongering. However, when googling to write today's post, I stumbled upon a piece about how accurate Downton Abbey's portrayal of the 'flu had been.
This article about Downton Abbey argued that the rather sanitised view of the 'flu shown in the episode was bad for public health information as it would lead people to believe that there was no need to be afraid of such pandemics in the future. It mentioned the lack of fear apparently shown by others in the house towards those who had succumbed. The willingness to visit, the willingness to nurse the patients, the lack of face masks.
So maybe the BBC have it right and are starting to make people aware of how a pandemic actually works. Let's just hope that they have jumped the gun and we will not ever find out truly how a pandemic works.
In terms of family history, I suppose the main point of interest for 1918/1919 would be to identify which relations, if any, we have who succumbed to the Spanish 'flu. It only occurred to me as I was writing that I do not have cause of death for a number of ancestors at that time. And therein lies the financial rub. As mentioned previously on this blog, it is not cheap to order death certificates in bulk. We need to be very sure that we have the correct person before we do so and we should have, in my view, a definite reason for wanting to know their cause of death. Perhaps the ones "worth" spending money on are our direct ancestors - the great, 2xgreat etc grandparents. Many of them will have come from very large families so it would be expensive to order certificates for all siblings.
However, if you have relations who died in 1918/1919 but were not killed in the First World War, it may be worth finding out if they died in the pandemic. After all...
“It really was a major event in modern human history........Outside of wars, there weren’t many events seen like it. So to downplay it at all is wrong." (MNN Post article)
We can only wait to see and hope that such an event will not be seen again.
You can donate to the Red Cross battle against Ebola at http://www.redcross.org.uk/ebolavirus