The Spanish Influenza 1918

Icelandic version

The Influenza 1918 in Iceland

The Spanish Influenza in Iceland

In the year 1918 an Influenza epidemic ravaged the world, in this epidemic over 20 million people were killed worldwide. This epidemic came in three waves, the first one came in May and June and was over quickly and with few casualties. The second wave came in September and October the so called Spanish Influenza, it ravaged in four continents and reached it┤s peak in short time and it was in this one that most of the people died. The third wave came in spring of 1919 and was more like an usual Influenza. 3

It is belived that this epidemic was brought to Iceland by passengers from the steamship Botnia which arrived from Copenhagen in the beginning of November 1918. Many people got sick on the first days and the disease spread rapidly in ReykjavÝk. The symptoms from this Influenza were: high fever, headache, delirium, vomit, diarrhea, nosebleed, severe cough, and pneumonia which was a common complication. At this time there was only one pharmacy in ReykjavÝk and it was open from 7 am to 2 am to serve prescription medication. On the 6th of November newspapers stopped coming out because most of the staffmembers were sick, but Information were put on callboard around town.2 At the time when the Influenza ravaged in ReykjavÝk there were about 15.0000 people living there and with in two weeks about 10.000 people were infected with the Spanish Influenza.1

At this time there were only 3 to 4 doctors looking after patients and it was impossible for them to take care of all the people that were sick. Early on most activity on sea and land ceased, for example the bakery┤s, shops and the telephone exchange closed and there were not dealt with any calls or telegrams. It was also difficult to transfer the corpses from the home to the morgue because the police had so few officers and they had been selected to transfer the patients, but mostly they were transfering the corpses to the morgue.2

On the 9thof november a nursing commission was nominated by the Icelandic goverment to oversee the transact of what was done to help the people which was sick with the Influenza. So the committee had the best perspective on the status in the town, it was divided down into district, and a manager was hired to investigate and inspect. Their main job was to inspect households in their district and to help were it was needed.1 The committee got Mi­bŠjarskˇli (a school in the down town) to use and they changed the classrooms into sickrooms and the people that were sickest and lived in poor circumstances were brought there.2

At the same time that the Influenza was at it┤s maximum in ReykjavÝk it started to pop up in the vicinity of ReykjavÝk, that is to the east of ReykjavÝk, in Borgarnes and in villages on Su­urnesjum. The Influenza did not hit the countryside as hard as it did in ReykjavÝk. It is beliefed that around 260 people died from the Influenza in ReykjavÝk and around 300 in all of Iceland.4


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Author of The Spanish Influenza in Iceland Sigr˙n Gu­nadˇttir