Flu tent in 1918The Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library recently published an article by Catherine Pate, Brigham archivist, about the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital’s response to the influenza epidemic of 1918, which features some similarities to the current pandemic.

“There was very little known about viruses or routes of contagion in the early years of the twentieth century,” wrote Pate. “It would be more than a decade before the viral nature of influenza was uncovered and another quarter-century before the development of a vaccine or the widespread use of antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections. At the time, hospitals such as the Brigham could offer influenza patients supportive care (fluids, oxygen delivery, attention to heart, bowels, etc.). Also considered therapeutic—a good dose of fresh air.”

According to the article, Dr. Henry A. Christian, the first physician-in-chief of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, shared the following account of nurses’ response:

“…Our nurses did most excellent work during the epidemic. The numerous cases of the disease among them made it necessary for the well ones to work with redoubled energy. Pupil nurses had to replace graduate head nurses as the latter fell ill, and so had thrust upon them much responsibility. Nurses could not but feel the grave danger they ran in handling a disease which evidently in some part of its course was extremely contagious and which was causing a high toll of deaths right under their eyes. There was no faltering; each did her duty and carried out her work efficiently. Particularly did the night nurses have a strenuous time, for in the silent hours of the night delirium was most active, and then it was that death claimed its largest numbers. The way our nurses met these demands upon them has caused the staff to feel great pride in them, and has been, I am sure, an occasion for much gratification to Miss Ivers and her associates who are immediately responsible for the training of the nurses. Personally it is a pleasure to me to voice here the feeling which all of the Medical Staff shares.

Read the full article here.