Masks Failed To Prevent the 1918 Spanish Flu

With all the debate surrounding whether or not to mask up–what can we glean from lessons of the past? Did masks prevent the spread of the 1918 Spanish Influenza?

Experts examined the evidence and concluded masks failed to control infection. Given that we know from autopsies that:

“The majority of deaths in the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic likely resulted directly from secondary bacterial pneumonia caused by common upper respiratory–tract bacteria.”

And given that the majority of deaths were in healthy young adults, age 20-40 years old—Did mask wearing actually increase mortality?

“In December 1918, the American Public Health Association recommended that the “wearing of proper masks” should be compulsory for medical staff, occupations such as “barbers, dentists, etc.,” and “all who are directly exposed to infection.” However, they found that “as to beneficial results consequent on the enforced wearing of masks by the entire population at all times was contradictory,” and thus DID NOT recommend “the widespread adoption of this practice.”

In 1919, Wilfred Kellogg’s study for the California State Board of Health concluded that mask ordinances “applied forcibly to entire communities” did not decrease cases and deaths, as confirmed by comparisons of cities with widely divergent policies on masking.

In a 1921 study, Warren T. Vaughn declared:

“the efficacy of face masks is still open to question.”

The problem was human behavior: Masks were used until they were filthy, worn in ways that offered little or no protection. Vaughn’s sobering conclusion: “It is safe to say that the face mask as used was a failure.”

In 1927, Edwin Jordan’s definitive study (JAMA) as a series of articles and then book, determined that:

“masks were effective when worn by patients already sick or by those directly exposed to victims, including nurses and physicians.”

But for others “The effect of mask wearing throughout the general community is not easy to determine.” (Via healthaffairs.org)

Let’s not forget that at this time they thought influenza was a bacteria, hundreds of times larger than viruses. And they were vaccinating people against “influenza” the bacteria.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2599911/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1362453/

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011933637

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001583712

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/251741

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/f/flu/8580flu.0016.858