Decaying corpses were stacked all over the burial ground and the streets were littered with the dead. When trains arrived at railroad stations, they had to be cleared of dead and dying passengers. The microscopic killer that lashed the face of America in 1918 and 1919 was Spanish influenza. In the U.S., more than 500,000 people died, mostly young adults!
Recently developed methods of travel permitted the swift distribution of the disease and with the First World War in progress, soldiers were transferred all over the world.
In some American cities, all public meetings were illegal: schools, churches, lodges, theaters, etc. Some cities were closed down while others made it illegal to be in public without wearing a mask. There were so many deaths the undertakers could not keep up with the burials and asked volunteers to dig graves. Other cities dug massive holes and buried everyone together without coffins. Morgues were overwhelmed and they stacked bodies like firewood in the corridors.
Since health officials were not much help and knew little about the flu, concerned people tried their grandmas’ prevention remedies such as eating raw onions, keeping a potato in their pocket, or wearing a bag of camphor around their neck.
There are no reports of any success from such practices but the raw onions might have kept the infected at a safe distance.
Some experts think the disease started in the U.S. at Fort Riley, a Kansas army camp, when a cook was infected. Within a week the pestilence was in every state because of the transfer of soldiers. The disease then jumped the Atlantic Ocean to cut down millions and infected about a third of the world! It marched into India killing 17 million people! Total world deaths are estimated to have been up to 100 million people (3% to 6% of the world population) and it killed 20% of those infected. This pandemic has been called "the greatest medical holocaust in history." It hit every part of the world.
Laura Spinney wrote in Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World
, it was the “greatest tidal wave of death since the Black Death, perhaps in the whole of human history.” More people died as a result of the Spanish flu than died in World War I and II - on both sides! During the Crimean War (1854-56), ten times more British soldiers died of dysentery than from all the Russian weapons combined! Moreover, 50 years later, during the Boer War, there were five times more deaths from disease than from enemy fire.
From the dawn of history, mankind has experienced times of sickness, sorrow, and suffering. Often, times of pestilence were mysterious, sudden, and without remedy. Lack of knowledge, superstition, and poor sanitary conditions often contributed to the progress of the pestilence. Men often felt that God was visiting them with a plague as punishment for their evil deeds. The disease was usually dreadful, devastating, and deadly and often left as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared.
Now, we face another deadly possibility: the coronavirus that experts think was caused by eating bats and other dirty creatures.
Additionally, there are Islamic terrorists with the ability, equipment, funds, and commitment to wreak destruction, disease, and death on a massive scale. Whatever the threat, it is folly not to be prepared.
Throughout history, people often reacted out of fear and ignorance, and that only compounded the problem, extending the pestilence. They ran from the towns, but found that when they arrived in their safe haven they were met by the same pestilence! Of course, the pestilence had been a traveling companion.
Recent news reports reveal that 5 million citizens fled Wuhan, China just before it was locked down by the government, leaving 9 million people to fend for themselves. About 19 Chinese cities have been quarantined and no one is asking how they will get food to stay alive. The Communist government doesn’t really care; after all, they have a population of 1.5 billion. Citizens, thought to be infected, have been arrested and placed in what The New York Times called “quarantine camps” against their will.
Our present threat could come from the coronavirus, an EMP blast, poisoned water or food supply, or biological agents sprayed over a metropolitan area.
The further one goes back into history, the less reliable are the numbers of dead, and the less knowledge we have of the pestilence that took them; however, it is a fact that mankind has suffered far more from bugs than from battles, more from viruses than villains.
We can pray (atheists can hope) that the coronavirus, like Ebola and other killers, will fizzle and fade and become only a momentary concern until “the really big one” shows up.
However, like the Chinese, most Americans will not be prepared to face it but at least we are not eating rats!