The great pandemics seem to have originated largely in the Orient—the region of vast congested populations and racial struggles and starvation—the advent of their apparent influence upon the western world depending chiefly upon the rate of commercial or popular intercourse, the movements of armies or the ingress or egress of peoples. The logical establishment of direct proof of the connection between these visitations and local epidemics in distant lands is a problem as yet unsolved. The weight of evidence, at first sight, would seem to lie rather in the other direction—to indicate that such epidemics are the direct outcome of existing local conditions, mental and physical.
For example: At the end of that strenuous period in England’s history, between the reign of the first Charles and the fall of the Commonwealth, an epidemic broke out which, as the historian tells us, converted the country into “one vast hospital.” The malady—which by the way was fatal to Cromwell—the Lord Protector himself—was then termed “the ague.” The term “Influenza” was first given to the epidemic of 1743 in accordance with the Italianizing fashion of the day, but was eventually superseded by the French expression “La Grippe,” usually held to represent a more modified form of the disease which appears to vary in intensity and virulence according lo its provocation and derivation.
The old school hypothesis and the deductions therefrom would seem therefore, to be this: That a super-malignant contagium imported from some foreign source falls upon organisms predisposed to infection by mental stress or physical privation and over-strain or both combined; and the contagion thus generated through the medium of some unsuspected “carrier” seizes upon and sweeps through that portion of the community so predisposed, in the form of a great, general epidemic with a maximum of mortality. At later intervals the same repeats itself with less violence and reduced mortality, because a great proportion,—representing the sufferers in the original epidemic,—being now thereby immune, the onus falls upon that section of the younger generation unprotected by individual resistant force who consequently become the chief sufferers—as in the case of the present epidemic, the pandemic form of which is obviously due to the fact that equal conditions of unrest, privation and distress prevail universally throughout the entire nerve plains of the Planet.
The first recorded outbreak in America occurred in the year 1647, followed by a second in 1655 and again in 1789 and 1807. In these the mortality appears to have been confined, after the first outbreak, to a few mere modest thousands whereas in the present visitation a conservative estimate places the figures of the horrible world-holocaust at no less a sum than 18 million lives in all.[D] The ravages in America have been appalling including many of the medical profession.
We pass on then to the second item—the question of the germ.