10 Aug Were Masks Worn During the 1918 Flu Pandemic?
The last time we faced a deadly pandemic on such a global scale was in 1918-1919, when a particularly virulent strain of the flu swept the world. They didn’t have N95 masks or any kind of particulate respirators back then, but they still recognized the importance of wearing a mask.
The History of the 1918 Flu
“It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report “Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic.”
Even today, the CDC says, “While the 1918 H1N1 virus has been synthesized and evaluated, the properties that made it so devastating are not well understood.”
In 1918, people did not head to the doctor to get a flu shot when flu season drew close. There were no vaccines to prevent influenza at the time. They also didn’t have antibiotics, which aren’t effective against viruses, but they are incredibly important when it comes to treating what are known as secondary bacterial infections.
So, how did the manage to get the pandemic under control? As the CDC reports, “Control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings.”
And, of course, they wore masks. In fact, according to History.com, “In western states, some cities adopted mask ordinances, and officials argued wearing one was a patriotic duty. In October 1918, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a public service announcement telling readers that ‘The man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker’—a reference to the type of World War I “slacker” who didn’t help the war effort. One sign in California threatened, ‘Wear a Mask or Go to Jail.’”
We have more advanced healthcare today, but the need to wear a mask is still vitally important. That’s why we offer a selection of N95 masks, including the NIOSH-approved N95 DuraMask, the 3M N95 mask and other particulate respirators.