IDPH 125th


The influenza pandemic that encircled the globe reached Chicago on Sept. 21, 1918. By the end of November, influenza or pneumonia had caused 8,510 deaths in Chicago.

Other parts of the state were also deeply affected. At Camp Grant in Rockford, 115 soldiers died in a 24-hour period. In Assumption, which had a population of 1,918 people, there were 500 cases reported in one month. Greenup, with a population of 1,224, counted 400 cases and the only two doctors in town were both ill with influenza. Of the 1,973 people in Nokomis, more than 600 had the flu.

The Department officially declared influenza an epidemic in October and ordered theaters, skating rinks, night schools and lodge halls to be shut down for 15 days. All public schools lacking in adequate medical and nursing supervision also were closed. In all, influenza affected more than 300,000 people in the state.

During the epidemic, symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, lung congestion headache, muscle aches and extreme fatigue progressed rapidly. Some began to feel sick in the morning, went to bed in the afternoon and were dead by nighttime.

Vigorous measures were taken by the Department to combat this epidemic, including making influenza a reportable disease and prohibiting funerals. Smoking and spitting on the street and on elevated railroad cars also were prohibited. The Department urged people to keep away from crowds; to avoid people who sneezed, coughed or spit; and to consult a physician immediately after symptoms appeared.

A mixed vaccine was prepared under the auspices of a laboratory committee appointed to handle this phase of preventative work. By Jan. 1, 1919 a total of 313,028 doses had been distributed in Illinois.

In just a few months, the flu had made it’s way to 46 states, and by December 1918 had killed more than 500,000 people. Worldwide, the epidemic claimed the lives of more than 20 million people.

... Years Ago in Public Health

A Timeline of the Illinois Department of Public Health

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