Sure, we've all heard about the Spanish Flu - or the Pandemic of 1918 - but what do you know about the Pandemic of 1889 - The Russian Flu? The 1918 outbreak coincided with the Great War and is now known to be an H1N1 virus that spread death across the world. But in 1889, at the height of the Belle Epoque, virology was unheard of. Some scientist now believe the 1889 Flu was the first COVID-19 outbreak. Peculiar observations made during the Russian flu pandemic included the loss of smell and taste not caused by nasal congestion. These and other observations documented in the historical records point more to COVID-19 than to an influenza-like disease. The long recovery period and the frequent neurological sequels mentioned in case reports and following years of fatigue, lack of concentration, depression and anxiety also resemble what is now described as "long haulers or long covid" symptoms. Of particular note is the frequent mentioning of persistent headaches weeks and even months after the acute infection, causing memory issues reported after the 1889 pandemic and now after COVID-19, while such reports are not prevalent after the Spanish flu influenza.
And the Russian flu outbreak occurs exactly when EJ, Daisy and Endie Polk were visiting the Exposition Universelle in Paris for the opening of the Eiffel Tower, and then in Milan studying at the Milan Conservatory. Here is an excerpt from the Chapter "Potions, Puccini & Pandemics";
The final bit of this biological tale concerns the history of conspiracy theories. An article in a December 1889 edition of The New York Times reported that the flu was mostly harmless. “There is nothing fatal about the universal cold”. Papers around the world also promoted "remedies" of quinine, an antimalarial drug that is the antecedent of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Dr.'s warned against these, but their warnings were unheeded. There were theories that it was caused by electrification of cities, or from telegraph poles. One Dr. in Chicago with dubious credentials claimed the source was stardust passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Still other physicians soberly rejected this idea for other causes such as volcanic dust or bird migrations. Migration of a kind was surely to blame for the speed and breadth of the spread. 1889 to 1890 marked the largest number of people traveling between continents and the highest record transatlantic ship travel in the history of the world to that date. Everyone was heading to Paris for the great exposition and then back home.
In the end, the 1889 pandemic killed one million people out of a worldwide population of about one and a half billion. It was the last great pandemic of the 19th century, and is among the deadliest pandemics in history with recurrent outbreaks through early 1895.
Citation: Brüssow, Harald, Brüssow, Lutz; "Clinical evidence that the pandemic from 1889 to 1891 commonly called the Russian flu might have been an earlier coronavirus pandemic." Microbial Biotechnology Journal. https://doi.org/10.1111/1751-7915.1388
Have you ever thought of Milan as a city of water?
When Daisy first visited Milan in 1889 with her mother and older sister Endemial, the city was surrounded by its 5 working canals.
"Bianca made arrangements for our first night supper in Il Centro and suggested we walk along the canals. Milan was a city of tranquil waterways at this time, with barges navigating the picturesque canal-banks. Naviglio means canal in Italian and navigli is the plural and name for the artificial canals of Milan. They were started during Roman times and by the end of the 13th century, water was seen as a way to transport people and objects, like the marble for the Cathedral. Leonardo da Vinci started working on these projects in 1482. This amelioration started the development of a new system of canals that would have made it possible to travel by canal from the Valtellina wine valley in the far North at the border of Switzerland to Milan, had the work been completed. I was lucky to see the City with its waterways intact, as by the 1920’s rail and motor travel saw many of them covered by streets and buildings with just remnants remaining and few signs that Milan had ever been surrounded by water."
Read more about Leonardo daVinci's canal designs, why they disappeared and how a growing movement is afoot to uncover them.
Some stories that couldn't make the book in full ... but need to be told! Editors welcomed - sign up below.
A WILLIS POLK GIFT
THE RLS CONNECTION 1896
EARTHQUAKE TALES FROM COPPA
PANDEMIC OF 1889
THE BOMB THAT SHOOK SF
MILAN:CITY OF WATER
POLK ON THE MAP
FEATHERS, FASHION & FLY FISHING
RARE AVIATION FILM - WWI 1914-17
1906 SAN FRANCISCO
WTF FILES - TECHNOLOGICAL
GET ME OUTTA HERE!
NO HORSES, NO TENTS, NO $
DAISY IN FRENCH LITERATURE
DAISY ON FILM!
THE WHITE DEATH
THE SYMBOLISM OF FLOWERS
POSTE DE SECOURS WWI
TRAVEL 1900: LONDON TO PARIS
DAISY: REST IN PEACE
KEITH'S, DRANE'S & KENTUCKY
MOTHER: MISSOURI COMPROMISE