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INFLUENZA


before the 1889 visitation, but it had not been generally realized, as it has been since, and some medical authorities, who persisted in regarding influenza as essentially a “catarrhal” affection, were chiefly to blame for a widespread and tenacious popular fallacy.

Leichtenstern, in his masterly article in Nothnagel’s Handbuch, divides the disease as follows:—(1) Epidemic influenza vera caused by Pfeiffer’s bacillus; (2) Endemic-epidemic influenza vera, which occurs several years after a pandemic and is caused by the same bacillus; (3) Endemic influenza nostras or eatarrhal fever, called la grippe, and bearing the same relation to true influenza as cholera nostras does to Asiatic cholera.

The “period of incubation” is one to four days. Susceptibility varies greatly, but the conditions that influence it are matters of conjecture only. It appears that the inhabitants of Great Britain are less susceptible than those of many other countries. Dr Parsons gives the following list, showing the proportion of the population estimated to have been attacked in the 1889–1890 epidemic in different localities:—

Place. Per
cent.
Place. Per
cent.
St Petersburg 50 Portugal 90
Berlin 33 Vienna 30-40
Nuremberg 67 Belgrade 33
Grand-Duchy of Hesse 25-30 Antwerp 33
Grand-Duchy, other   Gaeta 50-77
  Districts 50-75 Massachusetts 39
Heligoland 50 Peking 50
Budapest 50 St Louis (Mauritius) 67

In and about London he reckoned roughly from a number of returns that the proportion was about 12 1/2% among those employed out of doors and 25% among those in offices, &c. The proportion among the troops in the Home District was 9.3%. The General Post Office made the highest return with 33.6%, which is accounted for partly by the enormous number of persons massed together in the same room in more than one department, and partly by the facilities for obtaining medical advice, which would tend to bring very light cases, unnoticed elsewhere, upon the record. No public service was seriously disorganized in England by sickness in the same manner as on the continent of Europe. Some individuals appear to be totally immune; others take the disease over and over again, deriving no immunity, but apparently greater susceptibility from previous attacks.

The symptoms were thus described by Dr Bruce Low from observations made in St Thomas’s Hospital, London, in January 1890:—

The invasion is sudden; the patients can generally tell the time when they developed the disease; e.g. acute pains in the back and loins came on quite suddenly while they were at work or walking in the street, or in the case of a medical student, while playing cards, rendering him unable to continue the game. A workman wheeling a barrow had to put it down and leave it; and an omnibus driver was unable to pull up his horses. This sudden onset is often accompanied by vertigo and nausea, and sometimes actual vomiting of bilious matter. There are pains in the limbs and general sense of aching all over; frontal headache of special severity; pains in the eyeballs, increased by the slightest movement of the eyes; shivering; general feeling of misery and weakness, and great depression of spirits, many patients, both men and women, giving way to weeping; nervous restlessness; inability to sleep, and occasionally delirium. In some cases catarrhal symptoms develop, such as running at the eyes, which are sometimes injected on the second day; sneezing and sore throat; and epistaxis, swelling of the parotid and submaxillary glands, tonsilitis, and spitting of bright blood from the pharynx may occur. There is a hard, dry cough of a paroxysmal kind, worst at night. There is often tenderness of the spleen, which is almost always found enlarged, and this persists after the acute symptoms have passed. The temperature is high at the onset of the disease. In the first twenty-four hours its range is from 100° F. in mild cases to 105° in severe cases.

Dr J. S. Bristowe gave the following description of the illness during the same epidemic:—

The chief symptoms of influenza are, coldness along the back, with shivering, which may continue off and on for two or three days; severe pain in the head and eyes, often with tenderness in the eyes and pain in moving them; pains in the ears; pains in the small of the back; pains in the limbs, for the most part in the fleshy portions, but also in the bones and joints, and even in the fingers and toes; and febrile temperature, which may in the early period rise to 104° or 105° F. At the same time the patient feels excessively ill and prostrate, is apt to suffer from nausea or sickness and diarrhoea, and is for the most part restless, though often (and especially in the case of children and those advanced in age) drowsy.... In ordinary mild cases the above symptoms are the only important ones which present themselves, and the patient may recover in the course of three or four days. He may even have it so mildly that, although feeling very ill, he is able to go about his ordinary work. In some cases the patients have additionally some dryness or soreness of the throat, or some stiffness and discharge from the nose, which may be accompanied by slight bleeding. And in some cases, for the most part in the course of a few days, and at a time when the patient seems to be convalescent, he begins to suffer from wheezing in the chest, cough, and perhaps a little shortness of breath, and before long spits mucus in which are contained pellets streaked or tinged with blood.... Another complication is diarrhoea. Another is a roseolous spotty rash.... Influenza is by no means necessarily attended with the catarrhal symptoms which the general public have been taught to regard as its distinctive signs, and in a very large proportion of cases no catarrhal condition whatever becomes developed at any time.

Several writers have distinguished four main varieties of the disease—namely, (1) nervous, (2)gastro-intestinal, (3)respiratory, (4) febrile, a form chiefly found in children. Clifford Allbutt says, “Influenza simulates other diseases.” Many forms are of typhoid or comatose types. Cardiac attacks are common, not from organic disease but from the direct poisoning of the heart muscle by influenza.

Perhaps the most marked feature of influenza, and certainly the one which victims have learned to dread most, is the prolonged debility and nervous depression that frequently follow an attack. It was remarked by Nothnagel that “Influenza produces a specific nervous toxin which by its action on the cortex produces psychoses.” In the Paris epidemic of 1890 the suicides increased 25%, a large proportion of the excess being attributed to nervous prostration caused by the disease. Dr Rawes, medical superintendent of St Luke’s hospital, says that of insanities traceable to influenza melancholia is twice as frequent as all other forms of insanity put together. Other common after-effects are neuralgia, dyspepsia, insomnia, weakness or loss of the special senses, particularly taste and smell, abdominal pains, sore throat, rheumatism and muscular weakness. The feature most dangerous to life is the special liability of patients to inflammation of the lungs. This affection must be regarded as a complication rather than an integral part of the illness. The following diagram gives the annual death-rate per million in England and Wales, and is taken from an article by Dr Arthur Newsholme in The Practitioner (January 1907).

The deaths directly attributed to influenza are few in proportion to the number of cases. In the milder forms it offers hardly any danger to life if reasonable care be taken, but in the severer forms it is a fairly fatal disease. In eight London hospitals the case-mortality among in-patients in the 1890 outbreak was 34.5 per 1000; among all patients treated it was 1.6 per 1000. In the army it was rather less.

The infectious character of influenza having been determined, suggestions were made for its administrative control on the familiar lines of notification, isolation and disinfection, but this has not hitherto been found practicable. In March 1895, however, the Local Government Board issued a memorandum recommending the adoption of the following precautions wherever they can be carried out:—

1. The sick should be separated from the healthy. This is especially important in the case of first attacks in a locality or a household.

2. The sputa of the sick should, especially in the acute stage of the disease, be received into vessels containing disinfectants. Infected articles and rooms should be cleansed and disinfected.

3. When influenza threatens, unnecessary assemblages of persons should be avoided.

4. Buildings and rooms in which many people necessarily congregate should be efficiently aerated and cleansed during the intervals of occupation.