Topics in History: 1918 1919 Influenza Pandemic in Colorado

Loveland Reporter. 11 Oct. 1918.

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In 1918 and 1919 influenza and its complications accounted for about a half million deaths nationally.  In Colorado, between September 1918 and June 1919, an estimated 7,783 people died, with nearly 1,500 of those people living in Denver. Influenza likely originated in the United States in early spring of 1918 but it took on the nickname “Spanish influenza” because Spain had suffered an early attack.

Oak Creek Times. 11 Oct. 1918.
Oak Creek Times. 11 Oct. 1918.

Blanche Kennedy, a University of Denver student, was the first influenza-related fatality in Denver.  It is believed she contracted the disease in Chicago. Shortly after her death, Dr. William H. Sharpley, Denver’s Manager of Health, ordered the house in which she died quarantined. He quickly advised the public on the “rules of the flu”, such as washing hands and covering coughs, which mostly related to flu prevention.  As the epidemic grew, Sharpley ordered schools, churches and places of amusement to close but failed to restrict public gatherings and the use of street cars.  The flu spread across Colorado and hit many small towns, with few doctors and medical resources, hard.  Some towns, like Gunnison, avoided the high rate of infection by essentially quarantining the entire town for months.

By early 1919, the epidemic began to wane and many towns began to reopen schools.  Ultimately  the 1918-1919  influenza pandemic accounted for more deaths than suffered by United States troops in battle during World Wars I and II combined.

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