The Spanish Lady of 1918
“The stomach is the seat of the disease, and therefore I consider it a crime to give milk to the [influenza] patient.”
Dr. Benchetrit, 19191
“THERE WAS NO NECESSITY FOR ANYONE TO DIE FROM INFLUENZA. Every such death can be attributed to neglect, carelessness or mal-treatment.”
Benedict Lust, 19182
The much discussed fall 2009 H1N1 pandemic can’t help but remind us of the Spanish Flu of 1918. The early 20th century pandemic has been described as one of the worst calamities since the Black Death of the Middle Ages. “The Great War killed 9 million soldiers and civilians but the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed as many as 50 million people worldwide, proving that the germ was mightier than the sword. It came at a time when nineteen nations were at war, and disruption, stress, and privation of war certainly aided the flu’s transmission.”3Important to recall is that “many questions about its origins, its unusual epidemiologic features, and the basis of its pathogenicity remain unanswered” even today.4
A PBS documentary about the 1918 flu pandemic posited that the first case occurred at Fort Riley, Kansas, a military installation housing 26,000 men.5 At that time Kansas was an important supplier of cattle and horses for the war. Kenner in his PBS documentary reports, “soldiers often complained about the inhospitable weather including the blinding dust storms and that within the camp were thousands of horses and mules that produced a stifling nine tons of manure each month.”5
From Kansas to the Trenches In Europe
Looking for a point of origin of the so-called Spanish influenza that would eventually take the lives of 600,000 Americans, some historians point to the Fort Riley site on March 11, 1918. Just before breakfast on that day, an Army private reported to the camp hospital complaining of fever, sore throat, and headache. By noon, the camp’s hospital had dealt with over 100 ill soldiers. By week’s end that number jumped to 500.”5
That same spring, America joined in the fight against Germany. In March, 84,000 American “dough-boys” set out for Europe, followed by another 118,000 the next month. Little did they know they were carrying with them a virus that would prove to be more deadly than the rifles they carried.5 Koenig recounts, “the first reports of the severe influenza in Europe came in early April 1918, shortly after a transport full of American troops disembarked at the port of Brest, France.”3 By May, the Spanish Flu had spread to tens of thousands of soldiers sparing no one on either side.
Taubenberger describes how the pandemic spread:
“In the 1918–1919 pandemic, a first or spring wave began in March 1918 and spread unevenly through the United States, Europe, and possibly Asia over the next 6 months. Illness rates were high, but death rates in most locales were not appreciably above normal. A second or fall wave spread globally from September to November 1918 and was highly fatal. In many nations, a third wave occurred in early 1919. But 3 extensive pandemic waves of influenza within 1 year, occurring in rapid succession, with only the briefest of quiescent intervals between them, were unprecedented.”4(p10)
The Spanish Flu hit hard and it hit fast. “Reports show[ed] that the young, and those past middle life, [had] been notably free from the disease. The great bulk of those attacked [were] between the ages of 18 and 45.”6
Why the ‘Spanish’ Flu?
Dubbed the Spanish Flu, or Spanish Lady, the naming of the 1918 Flu was not because the pandemic struck Spain the hardest or first, but because “wartime censorship had suppressed news about the pandemic in France, Germany, and Britain”3(p261) and the Spanish press ran stories headlining the catastrophes of the influenza once King Alfonso XIII himself succumbed. This gave the false impression that the pandemic started in Spain and was wrongly given the name Spanish Flu.3(p261) One doctor blamed lax controls at American ports allowing the ‘flu from Spain’ to spread.6
Weather and Flu Connection
Pondering the flu’s origins, it did not escape the notice of US naturopaths that “at the time of the equinoctials (March 21st and September 22nd), the quickest changes in atmospheric pressure and temperatures and the greatest number of the most violent storms” also were occurring.7 Dr. Guy Hinsdale, who was a practicing clinical climatologist and balneotherapist, summarized the findings of Noah Webster who a century earlier in his Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases (Hartford, Conn., 1799) noted that most epidemics either originated or raged fiercely during such climactic upheavals. Webster listed 44 epidemics of ‘influenza or epidemic catarrh’ dating in Europe from 1174 A.D. and in America from 1647, concluding that epidemics happen:
1.After or during severe cold or during moist weather in spring, fall or winter or during dry hot summer [which includes all kinds of weather];
2.30 of the influenza outbreaks occurred in years of volcanic eruptions;
3.almost all occurred during years of earthquakes;
4.30 of the epidemics preceded or followed the appearance of comets.8
The naturopathic doctors in America fared well when treating their flu patients during this period. Their “losses were less than 1% of the cases treated.”9 The naturopaths advised against the conventional treatments used by the regulars and instead of recommending abundant food and Dover’s Powder, a preparation of ipecac and opium, naturopaths encouraged fasting, for example.10,11Other remedies used by the allopaths ‘included quinine tablets, castor oil, digitalis, morphine, enemas, and aspirin.”3
The Wonders of the Wet Sheet Pack
The naturopathic protocol shunned the pills and serums of the medical doctors and instead embraced the pillars of Preissentz and Father Kneipp’s use of cold wet sheet packs. Havard, who claimed to have not lost one influenza patient, carefully outlined his protocol. He recommended that patients receive plenty of rest and fresh air, and absolutely no food except fruit juices, cool sponge baths and alternate full sheet packs and trunk packs. At the beginning of treatment the bowels should be emptied, using enemas if necessary. Give light abdominal massages. If the headache was very severe, use cold compresses to the head and apply a throat pack. Full sheet packs are applied by dipping a sheet in cold water and enveloping the entire body, with exception of the head. The patient is then wrapped in several layers of blanket and allowed to remain thus until a good reaction is secured. This will reduce the temperature by causing skin action (perspiration) but should not be pushed too far. If the temperature is 103 F before the pack is applied, remove it when the temperature falls to 101 F, which may take anywhere from one-half hour to an hour and half. Sponge the patient, cover him warmly and allow him to rest for a half hour to an hour, then apply a trunk pack. For this, a piece of linen is dipped into cold water and applied around the trunk of the body, and a piece of blanket is wrapped securely around it several times. This pack may be left on a longer time than the other. Your temperature is your indicator. If within an hour or two after the body pack is removed the temperature rises again, revert to your full sheet pack. Continue this procedure until all symptoms have abated and the patient begins to convalesce. Do not resort to feeding until the temperature has remained normal for at least a day. Then begin with fruit, milk and gruels.11
The Essentials of the Naturopathic Protocol
This track record bodes well for naturopathic treatments during the present influenza threat. According to Lust, “The main essentials to remember [when] treating influenza are:
1.Warmth and rest
2.Promptness in inducing free perspiration, which will reduce the body temperature and expel wastes and so give the blood a chance to fight the germs
3.To make and keep the body clean externally and internally
4.To avoid administering unsuitable food”12
Rather than abide by the common rule of ‘feeding a cold and starving a fever’, the treatment of the flu was “starve the body … in the initial stage … and to reduce the fever as soon as possible.”12 Dr. Benchetrit, who treated thousands of Spanish Flu patients in South America with 100% cure rate, fasted his patients. He gave “a dose of castor oil, and then fasting, absolute fasting for 5 days, if necessary, until the stomach is cleansed.”1
Today, as the media fans fears about an imminent worldwide influenza outbreak, scared citizens are coaxed to line up for the H1N1 flu vaccine. In 1918, “for the first time in history, the public [had] been officially warned by the medical staff of a municipal hospital that fear of a disease [was] a serious pathological agent, capable in itself of producing sickness.”13 Media and government hype are indeed alarming North Americans and generating fear. Yet, there were treatments that were used by naturopathic doctors 90 years ago with stellar success which we can count on today once again as reliable, effective, safe, alternate pathways to the rapidly produced vaccinations from Big Pharma. In 1919, Dr. Lust warned his readers, “above all do not allow fear of infection or contagion to lower your vitality and power of resistance. Consult a good reliable naturopath.”9(p530)It is up to us to heed the counsel.
Sussanna Czeranko, ND, BBE is a faculty member working as the rare books curator at National College of Natural Medicine. She is currently compiling several books based on the journals published by Benedict Lust. In addition to her work in balneotherapy, she is the founder of The Buteyko Academy, a training program for NDs to incorporate a scientific model of breathing therapy called Buteyko into their repertoire.
1. Brandt C. Spanish influenza in South America and Dr. Benchetrit. Herald of Health, and Naturopath. 1919;24(8):406.
2. Lust B. Naturopathy and the epidemic. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1918;23(12).
3. Koenig RL. The Fourth Horseman, One Man’s Mission to Wage the Great War in America, New York, NY: Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group; 2006:260-262.
4. Taubenberger JK, et al. 1918 Influenza: the mother of all pandemics. CDC publication: Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2006;12(1):10-17.
5. Kenner R. Influenza 1918 The American Experience. PBS documentary. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/influenza/. Accessed October 22, 2009.
6. Bailey EP. Influenza’s primary cause is a planetary condition. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1920;25(4):181.
7. Lust B. Epidemics. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1919;24(2):74.
8. Hinsdale G. Early records of influenza epidemics in America. Trans Am Climatolog Assoc. 1919;35:92-105.
9. Lust B. The flu again, don’t be afraid. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1919;24(11):530.
10. Anders JM. Treatment of Influenza and Its Pulmonary Complications, Trans Am Climatolog Assoc. 1919;35: 286-294.
11. Havard WF. Editorial, Influenza. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1918;23(11)865-866.
12. Lust B. Influenza. Nature’s Path. 1927;3(1) 90-91.
13. Hekler E. The “flu” – what is it? Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1919;24(1)19.