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5e6bff5755d70.image Roanoke’s Red Cross volunteers, shown here campaigning to sell Liberty Bonds for the World War I effort, tended to people stricken with the flu during the 1918 pandemic. (Courtesy of Virginia Room, Roanoke Main Library )

Roanoke fought a war against a flu pandemic in 1918

By Ralph Berrier Jr.
via the Roanoke Times (VA) newspaper

During the afternoon of Sept. 23, 1918, Wiley W. Eastwood left work early, complaining of chills and a fever, and went to his bed in his Highland Avenue home.

Friends visited him the next morning, when news of his grave condition made rounds of the neighborhood. By noon, Eastwood was dead — the first Roanoke resident to die of influenza during the infamous “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918.

Over the next month, more than 4,000 Roanokers were struck with the flu, as sickness swept up citizens from all walks of life: orphans, railroad workers, soldiers, millhands, health care workers, college students and scores more.

Some 85 people died in 31 days, according to Roanoke historian Nelson Harris, who wrote about the 1918 flu pandemic in his book “Hidden History of Roanoke.”

Perhaps 50 million people died worldwide during the flu outbreak in 1918-19, a number that included 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 12,000 Virginians died of the flu, 10 times more than died on the battlefields during World War I.

Roanoke had experience fighting disease pandemics in its early boomtown years. The stagnant, unsanitary downtown, where disgusting rivulets of animal and human waste flowed in the open down muddy streets, served as a giant Petri dish for germs and disease. 

Read the entire article on the Roanoke Times web site.

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