While many readers will be familiar with the well known “Spanish Influenza”, a
term that refers to the iconic 1918 influenza pandemic, its predecessor, the
Russian Influenza – a pandemic that occurred in several waves during the late
nineteenth century (1889-94) – seems to have been lost from public memory. Yet,
in a mere four months it spread rapidly around a world that was becoming
increasingly interconnected by ships and railways (Valleron et al. 2010).
The details of the pandemic’s progress and effects were extensively reported in
newspapers and medical periodicals. The people of Hamilton were well aware of
its movements long before it reached the city. As an illness that seemed to
manifest itself simultaneously in mild and severe forms, doctors of the period
were at a loss to explain what was causing such widespread and variable suffering
(Smith 1995:55). This was a time when medical authorities debated whether
disease was caused by miasma – noxious odours and poisonous gases – or by
invisible bacteria that could only be seen with a microscope; a time in which the
public was essentially left to its own devices to treat the illness popularly known
as “la grippe”.
Herring, Ann; Carraher, Sally; Lim, Marie K.; Mrmak, Melissa; Hancock, Kelly; Maris, Natasha K.; Thompson, Samantha; Martel, Kelly A.; Schafer, Devan; Emes, Lisa; Colasanti, Vanessa; Spry, Melinda; Montero, Marta; Murray, Frances; Toth, Gabrielle S.; Byford, Sarah K.; Steenhoek, Meghan; Rubignoni, Ema; Hartwick, Courtney A.; Alonso, Jennifer; Da Silva, Stephanie; and Monnaie, Jessica, "Miasma To Microscopes: The Russian Influenza Pandemic in Hamilton" (2011). Anthropology Publications. Paper 5.