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Cudmore: Amsterdam officials took steps to limit 1918 pandemic

Cudmore: Amsterdam officials took steps to limit 1918 pandemic

The Amsterdam Board of Health banned public assemblies in October 1918 in an effort to limit local spread of the worldwide flu pandemic. 

In a newspaper plea in November, Board of Health officer Dr. Horace M. Hicks said, “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. 

He 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.

Dr. Hicks was a native of Delta, New York, in Oneida County.  He earned his medical degree from the Chicago Homoeopathic Medical College.  He was a major and medical officer during the Spanish American War.

From October 1918 through January 1919 there were 176 deaths in Amsterdam from flu or pneumonia which often followed the flu.  That’s half of one percent of the city’s population at that time.  The death toll in Amsterdam from the pandemic was higher than the 42 estimated Amsterdam deaths from combat and related causes during World War I.

Censorship in America and other countries fighting the war kept newspaper coverage and government statements about the illness at a minimum in an effort to keep spirits up for the war effort.

But by October 1918 the war was rapidly coming to a bloody end and there was more public acknowledgement of the flu.

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.  Both St. Mary’s and City Hospital were filled to capacity.

The 1918 flu pandemic resulted in a higher than expected mortality rate for young adults.  For example, 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, who died within 15 minutes of each other. 

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.

In December flu cases spiked up again to 522, pneumonia cases rose slightly to 27.  The death rate 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 attended a Board of Health meeting where the flu was discussed in February.  Internationally, the flu subsided dramatically in early 1919.

Hicks continued to practice medicine in Amsterdam, representing St. Mary’s Hospital, for example, in a meeting with City Hospital doctors in 1934. 

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