The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in Mexico

The Spanish flu pandemic has been the deadliest in modern history with over 50 million deaths all over the world

The fatal results of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in Mexico
English 01/02/2020 12:17 Mexico City Fernanda Ramírez, Jessica Soto & Fernando Palacios Actualizada 13:03
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One of the deadliest pandemics in human history was the one that took place in 1918 when the “Spanish Flu” spread and had a toll of 50 million deaths all over the world.

Although the actual origin of the disease was France and then it spread to Spain, it was the Iberic country that informed about the consequences of the pandemic that disseminated due to the mobilization of troops in WWI.

Mexico was not exempt from this health crisis that took thousands of lives. The sickness had a strong presence in the north of the country and the government implemented drastic measures, such as closing the borders and hosing the streets with creolin – a strong disinfectant – to avoid its propagation.

This is how EL UNIVERSAL covered the presence of the Spanish Flu in Mexico:

On Guard Against the Spanish Flu
October 101, 1918

*The Health Department adopts energetic measures to prevent the pandemic from expanding
*Traffic between Monterrey and Torreón suspended
*Infested ships will only be allowed in Veracruz, where they will be put on strict quarantine

The appearance of the “Spanish Flu” in our country has acquired alarming characteristics for it is present in several places as a strong pandemic. Health authorities have noticed the danger that lingers upon the Republic, and to prevent its propagation, the Health Department has ordered the following measures.

The news we have about the affectations the “Spanish Flu” is causing, both abroad and in our country, will surely make our people to be prepared for the terrible blow, supporting the actions of the Department.

Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

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The pandemic at Havanna – Measures Against Infested Ships
Our ambassador in Havanna sent a cablegram to the Foreign Affairs Ministry reporting that the “Spanish Flu” pandemic has appeared and is expanding on the whole island, mainly to the eastern provinces. He said the ship “Alfonso XII” arrived with 1,200 migrants on board, out of which 23 died due to the terrible disease and 300 were infected. In the same cablegram, he said there is evidence of the presence of cholera on the island.

In this regard, the President of the High Council of Health, the doctor and General José María Rodríguez directed a letter to the manager of the Spanish Transatlantic Company, letting him know that the “Alfonso XII” ship will only be accepted in the port of Veracruz where it will be put in quarantine since the rest of the ports in the Gulf do not have the necessary conditions” (…).

Traffic between Monterrey and Torreón suspended
Railroad traffic between the cities of Torreón and Monterrey, who are connected by three railway lines, will be suspended today in the way called Hipólito, according to orders given by the general direction.

This is in order to prevent the propagation of the terrible “Spanish flu” that is wreaking havoc in the region.

It is highly probable a similar measure will be taken in the Coahuila and Pacific railways because the city of Saltillo wants to be isolated since it has not been invaded by the pandemic yet.

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The pandemic in Coahuila state
Yesterday, we were given information by the Finance Ministry which we immediately published about the measures issued by the Customs General Direction to prevent the propagation of the pandemic that has started in northeast Mexico.

“As a prevention measure and to stop the so-called “Spanish Flu” from propagating to other places in the country, the Ministry has ordered the closure of the Laredo Border Customs Office in Tamaulipas while the risk of infection prevails; once it disappears and the conditions of the place are positive, the reopening of the traffic will be opened in the mentioned office.”

SALTILLO, Coah., October 9. - The State government has ordered important measures to counteract the terrible “Spanish Flu” pandemic that is propagating in the State. Temples, schools, theaters, and other places were people can gather have been closed.

70% of the population is infected by the terrible disease and the first death has been of the local congressman Enrique Dávila.

The Spanish Flu pandemic
Friday, January 11, 1918

Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

*While Mexico says it has reduced in the North, Monterrey says the disease is worsening. Patients die from asphyxiation.

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Hosing the streets
Mr. José M. de la Garza, Municipal President of Mexico is seriously worried about the invasion of the Spanish Flu pandemic threatening Mexico City.

Yesterday, he gave orders for all hosing vehicles of the Public Works Service to work constantly so that, filled with a strong creolin solution, they hose the streets of this city at least twice a day.

The Spanish Flu pandemic weakens
Saturday, August 12, 1918

Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

The “Spanish Flu” pandemic that was developing at an alarming pace in northeast Mexico has begun to decrease, according to reports obtained from authorized sources.

Laredo’s Customs Office Opens
The Finance Ministry said the following about the decision taken yesterday by the Customs General Direction:

“Regarding the reports received from the Nuevo Laredo Border Customs Office Administrator in Tamaulipas, this Ministry has decided to reopen to the public the mentioned office.”

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Health measures
The chief of the Health Department proposed to the President of the Republic to adopt the following measures that were approved:

  • To send, without delay, several health brigades to the places were the pandemic is stronger with enough medications to attend those infected.
  • To print a sheet of paper that will be distributed throughout all the Republic which will contain explanations of the case and the measures to prevent the disease, as well as the care needed to heal.
  • Naming several agents to investigate the location of “Spanish Flu” cases and to notice immediately the High Council of Health.
  • To order the city’s government to hose the streets several times a day and even to sweep them.
  • To notice the Tramway Company, and the owners of all kinds of rented vehicles, to disinfect them daily.
Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Dr. Ballina’s Opinion
With the objective of providing our readers with relevant statements about the “Spanish Flu” pandemic, here are the statements made by Dr. Francisco Ballina, director of the Spanish Hospital:

“First. The ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic is only present in Mexico with the characteristics of a disease previously known as the common cold and it does not have, as it has been said, alarming symptoms that could cause a true pandemic that could cause numerous victims in the Republic.

"That the disease by this name will not take long to arrive at the city, if it is not already there, is something that cannot be doubted; it is natural that the acute pandemic that has attacked the border states causes alarm among us. The denser the population, the more havoc, and Mexico City is optimal for the development and propagation of the new pandemic. It is said that we are already 800,000 inhabitants of which 20% is in conditions to fight the disease due to health conditions needed to fight any pandemic; therefore, there would be a big percentage that would be easy prey for the disease.

"Fortunately, the government is already in charge of ordering the measures it considers efficient to limit the blow, whose effects we hope not to be as important as some assert. And we say this because the so-called flu, which has had fatal results in Europe with victims year after year, is harmless in these regions where it is only a more or less intense cold. So has been declared by experts whose opinion was recently requested about the characteristics of the disease.

"Be that as it may, and regarding the development with which the mentioned disease has invaded the central region, the government must not be left alone with the task of sanitizing the city to prevent the attack. All inhabitants, even those with few elements, can collaborate in this task with a bit of goodwill and basic hygiene. Cleaning latrines is essential and can be easily done."

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The flu weakens all over the country
October 14, 1918

Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

As a matter of fact, we had access to a message dated in Monterrey in which the governor Nicéforo Zambrano asserts that due to the measures implemented by his government, the epic has disappeared, according to opinions of local doctors.

The Health delegate in Nuevo Laredo also asserts in a telegram issued to the president of the Department Dr. José María Rodríguez, that the pandemic has continued decreasing and stresses as a meaningful fact that people are attending in short numbers the stores that supply medications to fight the flu. According to information supplied by the Civil Registry, there were 11 cases of death registered with no other event worth mentioning.

As you will surely remember, we reported it was known that in Juchitepec, Tenango del Aire in the State of Mexico, there had been some “Spanish Flu” cases registered and so we investigated the result of the test performed by the Department. As an answer, we received a message from a military doctor who informed us that there are only 17 cases but none of them present alarming symptoms.

The development of the flu in the capital
Tuesday, October 15, 1918

Yesterday, by orders of the Public Health Department, 40 persons infected by the flu were received in the General Hospital of this city. After the director of the hospital knew about the situation, he ordered to have a pavilion ready for their arrival that will be exclusively destined for those affected with the mentioned disease and in which, as usual, there will be perfect antisepsis.

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The Spanish Flu is losing ground
Wednesday, October 16, 1918

Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

* Only in San Pedro, Coahuila the disease is increasing with up to 100 daily deaths
* Medications will be brought from the United States

Dr. José María Rodríguez, president of the High Council of Health told us yesterday that he has been receiving telegrams from Monterrey, Zacatecas, and Nuevo Laredo that report the “Spanish Flu” pandemic continues weakening for there are very few new cases.

Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Meanwhile, in San Pedro, Coahuila, the disease has continued growing and there are days in which the victims ascend to 100. This is alarming because the population is between 10,000 and 12,000 persons.

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