What was in the medicine cabinet?

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Spanish Flu logo

For perspective on our current coronavirus situation, we are following the entrance of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, that paragon of pandemics, into the minds and bodies of Lehigh Valley residents who got their news through the Morning Call (the files of the Bethlehem Globe are closed to us at the moment).

Though Hydroxychloroquine trips off the president’s tongue as easily as a Dr. Seuss lyric, we have no medicine for the coronavirus.

Neither did the Spanish Flu sufferers.

Early indication that a New York bacteriologist “discovered a serum” went nowhere, and the public health service in Washington was not able to recommend any “effective vaccine.”

The best medicine was prevention. Over and over again readers of the Morning Call in September and October 1918 were advised to cover your mouth when you cough, keep clean, watch the temperature, get fresh air, chew your food, wash your hands, pee and poop a lot, use clean utensils, wear comfortable clothes.

Especially, said the state health commissioner, “this is a time to let sunshine into the houses. Avoid crowded places, entertainments, churches where there are crowds. Keep in the open air as much as possible. Sunshine is what is need to keep in good trim.”

Ok, but what do you do if you catch the Flu?

There were, interestingly, a number of what we might call “over-the-counter” drugs pitched to Call readers: CHASCO-VIN, Father John’s Medicine, Vick’s VapoRub, the Hyomei Inhaler, Grejovan, and Smo-ko.

Flu 56

Of little value ultimately, of course: an estimated 675,000 Americans died of the Spanish Flu.

The smell of Vick’s VapoRub still wafts in Gadfly’s memory.

Leave a Reply