Amsterdam and the flu pandemic of 1918-19

When the world-wide influenza pandemic struck in 1918, Amsterdam had its share of disease and death.

When the world-wide influenza pandemic struck in 1918, Amsterdam had its share of disease and death.

The flu became more deadly in the fall of that year, near the end of World War I. From October 1918 through January 1919 there were 176 deaths in Amsterdam from flu or pneumonia, half of one percent of the city’s population.

Amsterdam had 23 cases of influenza in September and eight people had pneumonia.

In October the number of flu cases jumped to an astounding 3,386; 255 people had pneumonia. Amsterdam had 43 flu deaths in October and 77 deaths from pneumonia, which often followed the flu. Both St. Mary’s and City Hospital were filled to capacity.

Many of those who died were young adults. In the Recorder obituary report from October 19, the seven fatalities from flu and/or pneumonia ranged in age from 24 to 35.

One victim was Joseph Bryk, 25, who lived on James Street. He first caught a cold and then died from pneumonia on October 18. Bryk had come to Amsterdam three months before and met Appolonia Bogdan. They were to have been married at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church on the day Bryk died.

Four deaths were reported on one night in October in St. Johnsville, including baker Cleveland Spraker and one of his children. They died within 15 minutes of each other. Three children in one family died in the hamlet of Starkville in Herkimer County.

The Amsterdam Board of Health banned public assemblies. In a newspaper plea in October, Board of Health officer Dr. Horace M. Hicks requested local merchants not to send goods out of their stores for inspection by customers. Hicks feared that if the merchandise was returned to the stores, as frequently happened, the store goods could be contaminated.

In November, 191 flu cases were reported in Amsterdam; 24 had pneumonia. There were 15 deaths from flu that month and 24 from pneumonia.

The Board of Health started allowing public assemblies again in November but Dr. Hicks said in a newspaper ad, “No person who has epidemic influenza or any symptoms of the disease should be so inconsiderate of others or careless of his own life and health as to meet with any others in any public gathering.” Hicks urged parents to keep sick children out of school.

In December flu cases spiked up again to 522, pneumonia cases rose slightly to 27. The death rates in Amsterdam, however, declined. There were 13 fatalities from flu in December and two from pneumonia.

A Recorder story from December 27, 1918 reported that while epidemic conditions still prevailed, no more quarantines were contemplated.

In January 1919, Amsterdam flu cases dropped to 99; 10 people had pneumonia. There was one death from the flu and one death from pneumonia that month. Mayor Seely Conover was on hand for a Board of Health meeting where the situation was discussed in February. Internationally, the flu subsided dramatically in early 1919.

Horace Hicks was a native of Delta, New York, a settlement that was flooded in 1912 to create a reservoir, Delta Lake in Oneida County. He earned his medical degree from the Chicago Homoeopathic Medical College in Chicago in 1886. He was a major and medical officer during the Spanish American War.

Hicks continued to practice medicine in Amsterdam after the flu epidemic, representing the medical staff of St. Mary’s Hospital, for example, in a meeting with doctors from City Hospital in 1934. Hicks also wrote an article on the importance of cleanliness in fighting infectious disease for a New York State bulletin of health news.

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