Fresh Air Lessons from the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

Remember to get fresh air daily. Back in 1918 when the Spanish Flu was spreading across the globe, many doctors knew that fresh air would aid in the recovery process.

 In Halifax, Yorkshire, a doctor smashed a window with a rolling pin, and he watched his gasping patients immediately begin to recover. In Alberta, Canada, a doctor treated his patients in tents and they all recovered. In Milan, patients were treated in a courtyard because of overcrowding, and the patients outside recovered more quickly than the patients inside. In London, a doctor at the London Hospital recommended everyone sleep in the open air, believing that cool air increased circulation and aided the body in removing toxins.

In New York, the Roosevelt Hospital placed children on the roof, protected from the wind by screens. They were put to bed with hot water bottles. It seemed outrageous at first, but six hospitals in Massachusetts soon followed the example. At a hospital in Boston, patients were nursed in tents, warmed with hot bricks wrapped in newspaper. Only 35 patients out of 351 died compared to half the patients in other Boston hospitals.

Fresh air, circulation, the sun — all has health benefits. 

 The Spanish Flu saw many deaths, some say 100 million, but not because of the influenza virus itself. People died from the subsequent bacterial infections in the lungs at a time when there were no antibiotics. 

The treatments at the time consisted of technically unsafe amounts of aspirin, quinine, strychnine, formaldehyde, opium, turpentine, ammonium, and in the flurry of everything, even some influenza vaccines were made and given to some people. Remember at this time, all syringes were reused.

It is unknown how many people may have died from the medical treatment itself. But fresh air undoubtedly reduced the mortality rate.

Be careful of leaping for potentially damaging medications. Get outside.

Some of the details from this article came from the book “Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Holocaust in Modern History” by Catharine Arnold.