Pandemic at Home: Ineffective Remedies

By Ashley Henrickson

With no vaccine or cure for influenza in 1918, families were forced to watch as community members and loved ones succumbed to the disease.

Each day the Lethbridge Herald reported more and more cases of the flu. During this terrifying time, families searched furiously for remedies that would save their loved ones. Some of the ‘cures’ that were advertised to families in Lethbridge included drinking watered-down wine, building a new house, or injecting the blood of healthy people into the sick.

Children spent most of the flu pandemic inside their homes because schools in Lethbridge and the surrounding area were closed to prevent the spread of the disease. Many children spent these dark days fighting the flu themselves or aiding their ailing relatives. Most people fought the disease in their own homes, not in hospitals, so the children confined to these private spaces undoubtedly saw the disease first hand.

Indigenous populations living on reserves across Alberta and across the country suffered from horrifically higher mortality rates than other Canadians. In 1919, the Department of Indian Affairs reported that 3,694 Indigenous people living on the reserves in Canada died from the flu, making the influenza mortality rate 34.85 per 1,000 cases: five times the national rate for non-Indigenous populations. The disease’s deadly effects were exaggerated by malnutrition and poor housing conditions on reserves, as well as widespread cases of tuberculosis and other diseases.

You can learn more about the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 in the Pandemic at Home exhibit at the Galt Museum & Archives until October 14, 2018.