News Barcelona 1918, a flu 'superstar'

Barcelona 1918, a flu ‘superstar’


The influenza pandemic of 1918 was literally a best seller. It was also a terrible way to die. The sick more serious amorataban victims of cyanosis heliotrópica. Blue, almost black, were unrecognizable even to his family. But, don’t freak out the squeamish, this chronicle is not about the pathology of the brutal pandemic, but what was your daily life in a city like Barcelona, not always through the eyes of literary Josep Pla (“these past few days I’ve had to attend several funerals. This certainly makes you begin to feel a loss of emotion in front of the death…”), but of the more prosaic opportunity offered by the press of the time. Here is an example. Under the title “Jokes in bad taste”they did know that “for several days, some desaprensivos subjects are dedicated to inform by phone to the funeral undertaking requesting to be carried coffins to houses in which then it turns out that there is no corpse”. The civil governor put the police in search and capture to these jokers. This, even though it portrays the bad taste of the mood of the time, it is only an anecdote tiny next to everything then was published, thousands of news stories and, above all, thousands of advertisements of medicines miraculous. What has been said, that the flu was a bestseller.

Laxatives, rum, lemon, and combined of quinine and arsenic, phototherapy and until an overcoat of the latest fashion, every prevented the flu

Laura Almudéver, professor of the University of Valencia, he dedicated a good part of their oceanic doctoral thesis of 2016 to this aspect. This chronicle is in debt to her. That pandemic took three trips around the world. The first wave came to Barcelona during the spring of 1918, although scared, was not the most lethal. When he returned in September, the grim reaper didn’t have. On the 26th of October, to cite one random day, were killed 231 people in Barcelona. The third wave of the flu, from February to march, 1919, was more benign, but the terror was increased, by the remembrance of the trail of death that had already left months before and, also, perhaps, because in the newspapers there were announcements about how to avoid contagion.

That sindiós of disinformation advertising was a cause very clear. The bad call Spanish flu (“what they say by their accent, or because you like the bulls?”complained a writer when she was baptized in the rest of the world) it was a monumental mystery to science. It was a pandemic that arrived, that is true, in an era in which for the first time in history the disease began to seem avoidable. The second half of the NINETEENTH century was very rich in discoveries of remedies against ailments that are persistent, such as tuberculosis and diphtheria, but viruses were still a mystery. It was not until 1931 that their existence was confirmed and until the 1940s that were observed through an electron microscope. In 1918, in Barcelona and in the rest of the world, the main suspect of causing the high mortality rate was the bacillus of Pfeiffer, more false guilty that Henry Fonda in the film of the same title.


So, did your August the pharmaceutical serious, the cantamañanas of alternative medicines and, as you look at it, anyone who had something to sell and would recommend to prevent the flu. Tincture of iodine, carbon disulphide, phototherapy, pills, Valda, pills Bonald, injections of quinine and arsenic, cigarettes carminativos, the belt electric Galvani, aspirin, that there was even overdose of it, to lemon juice, which rose exponentially in price, the famous Phospho-Glyco-Kola, bebedizos “beef liquid”, colloidal silver, ron, antiserum and, as posts, until laxatives, as Láxen Bust, for if one could beat the pulse of the flu in the toilet, and elegant overcoats raincoats in the latest fashion, with that also came gift an umbrella. Nothing was really effective. Well, not quite. The cocktail of brandy, rioja and champagne advised also as therapeutic you can say, at least, that was more joyful the journey in the boat of Charon.

Cotton into the nostrils, soaked in Eucalmentol, so was the mask of 1918 who wanted to popularize a trademark

In reality, the authorities gave wise advice to the population, not much different to the current. You closed schools, you monitored the rail traffic and banned smoking in cinemas and theatres, most of all for that nasty habit of smoking of spitting out the strands of tobacco that are left between the lips. The idea of avoiding the exhalations of potential patients was very present. Another issue is sometimes how it was intended to implement that advice. Indistinguishable from a journalistic information would be in the newspapers published strongly, for example, an advertisement in disguise of the manufacturers of the Eucamentol. They argued that the most effective way to prevent the contagion was enter swabs in the nasal passages soaked with your product. It is a pity not to have found, for the publication of this journey in time, photographs of a street of that ancestor of the current mask.

Seen with the arrogance of the TWENTY-first century will be able to claim that the barcelona of the early TWENTIETH century faced the influenza pandemic to the blind or, worse yet uninformed, sign that, even without twitter and without Vox that is possible. Sand attributed the initial outbreak, for example, to the works of the metro of Madrid, 1916, as if they had removed some land that sealed an ancient evil hidden. The press also reported that in Cadiz, banned the confetti in the carnival because it was suspected that he could be an agent transmisor of the flu. It seems a nonsense, but looked with calm more it still cut health and be surprised later by the collapse of the system.

Your way, every great influenza european (since the 1700’s has been, it is supposed, about 50) has allowed us to portray each era. To 1918 were reached in a manner calamitous. The life expectancy in 1900 was 34.8 years. In 1930 it had climbed to 49.9. Can the flu to contribute to the front, for simple and pure necessity, to which the politician and historian César Silió Cortés described then as “the mortality indisculpable”, raw definition that would today be recovered in view of what happened in those nursing homes. To Silió, who came to be minister Antonio Maura, we reconcomía that Spain was “the country of death”, and it seems that, at least a little, the pandemic of 100 years ago was a salutary lesson against that, or that was so offensive that all of them thought that that flu called Spanish. Reported at the first change ‘The leading Edge’ of that “the flu is caused by a bacterium that senegalese troops have been imported to Europe and a well-known doctor believes that this harmful bacteria comes from south Africa”. So much effort to clarify things not seen in the local press barely 20 years before, when he caused havoc call flu Russian, supposedly a native of Siberia, who here is renamed as the flu Gayarre, because it was in front of the famous tenor who was walking his fame in the world with that surname.

So back in time it was Spain that until there was that importing a word to put a name to the disease

The immersion in the library of contemporary Spanish flu would, with more space, go beyond. That pandemic doesn’t get to Barcelona as it is now, low defenses after the crisis of 2008. The city came to 1918 after three years of great prosperity, poorly distributed, as is usual, but bonanza at the end. Barcelona was the refuge of the neutral rich half of Europe in a world at war. The local bourgeoisie, until the naval blockade of 1917 closed the passage to exports, amassed fortunes thanks to two cousins of european royalty, William and Nicholas, not been able to resolve their differences in another way that wasn’t condemning millions of people to death. In Barcelona, the war, although the seats had been heated disputes between germanófilos and aliadófilos, was emotionally far away, as if it were a thing of another world, of the europeans, from beyond the Pyrenees. So much so that, when the pandemic arrived in Spain, I had not actually a word in Spanish to refer to this disease. Some newspapers used the French name, ‘grippe’, other, the Italian, ‘influenza’, but there was one who preferred the name humorous, ‘the soldier of Naples’, because it was so catchy as a zarzuelesca song then very fashionable, for very unfortunate that out of your letter: “the glory romantic, brings me to the death, don’t say your song, that revives my grief, if I die queriéndote, what death so good”. A quarter of a million spaniards, according to the imprecise data of that time, was ahead of the 1918 pandemic.



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