Czechoslovakia under the Spanish flu: How did the virus fight and how many people died?

While on October 28, 1918, Prague and other cities danced and sang enthusiastically, tens of thousands of people lost their lives. They got the so-called Spanish flu. According to the latest findings, the epidemic claimed up to 80,000 victims in the Czech lands alone, which is much more than previously thought … already in April 1918, MUDr. Ernst Guth, occupational physician of the Kladno Poldovka, indications of a strong influenza epidemic. At that time, little was naturally known about the fatal cases of influenza on the Western Front and in American camps, where tens of thousands of recruits were waiting in a cramped space for their deployment in Europe. A mysterious disease spread on the fronts, but practically no one heard about it in Prague, the censors of the military administration did not suffer such a report in the newspapers. There was talk among the soldiers outside in the trenches about the Flemish fever, but also about the flu from hunger …

There is not much that doctors could do against the so-called Spanish flu. Most were convinced that the causative agent of the disease was Pfeiffer’s bacillus – however, numerous Czech doctors, such as Vladislav Švestka, Ivan Honl or Assistant Professor Hlavín Antonín Spilka, doubted this. No special remedy for influenza was known, but many have been tested – urotropin, neosalvarsan or creosote. MUDr. Jan Šimsa promoted collargol in the sanatorium in Krč. However, all these flu drugs eventually disappointed. Particularly complicated treatment occurred when pneumonia was added to the influenza, then patients had to be kept alive, for example by cardiac preparations such as digitalis, strofantin, caffeine, strychnine or camphor.

Professor Wagner from the Prague Obstetrics Clinic watched as many pregnant women and puerperiums died at the height of the pandemic. He hoped to save young women by injecting adrenaline into their muscles. Professor Rudolf Jaksch von Wartenhorst, Head of II. medical clinic of the Prague German Medical Faculty, he had only scolding words for this action – this hormone was too dangerous for use in everyday practice. But as early as February 1919, a chemical plant in Chrást near Chrudim began producing ampoules against influenza pneumonia according to Wagner’s design.

The vast majority of all patients received no help at all because there were too few doctors and medicines available. Between 1915 and 1918, the number of physicians in Prague decreased from 792 to only 494 due to the war. In many places, as was the case in Košíře, there were one physician per 10,000 patients. In the end, many doctors succumbed to the flu, such as the head of the Klatovy hospital, Bohumil Tyll, and the general practitioner, Michael Horníček from Smíchov.

The cure for all’s hopes, aspirin, was almost unavailable, and black marketers sold it for exorbitant sums. At the same time, in life-threatening cases, this drug did not help practically anything. And against terrible pain, for example in the case of pneumonic complications, morphine or the heroin or pantopone, which was still in use at the time, an opium preparation from Switzerland, worked much better.


People and also cities have a characteristic staff of microbes

Recently, we often hear about microbiomes – specific communities of bacteria and viruses that animals, including humans, have in their intestines. It turns out that they have a surprising effect on human health and participate in the functioning of organs to which one would not say it at first glance. According to a new study by an international team of experts, this is basically the same for cities.
Research leader Christopher Mason of Cornell University in the United States and colleagues collected samples with microbes on surfaces in public transportation and hospitals from 60 cities in 32 countries around the world. In the period between 2015 and 2017, there were a total of 4,728 samples.
When the researchers analyzed the samples and read the discovered genome sequences, they came across 4,246 known species of viruses, bacteria and archaea. In addition, they also discovered 10,928 species of viruses and 748 species of bacteria, which they did not find in any available database and are therefore new to science. The 31 species discovered were common to 97 percent of cities, and the remaining thousands of species formed specific microbiomes of each city. The results of research could be used in epidemiology, in the development of new drugs, and also in forensic medicine.