Friday, September 6, 2013

Flu Season . . . Of A Different Kind

By: Peggy L Henderson

Fall is quickly approaching, the kids have gone back to school, and we all know what that means – flu season. But people aren’t the only ones who suffer from influenza. Our dogs, cats, and horses can get the flu, as well.
Equine Influenza outbreaks these days can have economic impacts on the racing and showing industry. But what about in the nineteenth century? Everything was dependent on horse power back then, just as we depend on gasoline today. An outbreak could have devastating consequences. 
treating flu stricken horses 
In 1872, an outbreak of equine influenza crippled the US economy.  It came to be known as the Great Epizootic of 1872. The Long Riders’ Guild Academy, the historical organization that researched the outbreak, has said that "The Great Epizootic was the worst equestrian catastrophe in the history of the United States - and perhaps the world."
When horses became unable to perform their duties in the eastern cities, the economy came to a grinding halt. In fact, the influenza outbreak that year is said to have been a major contributor to the economic crash in 1873.
workers pulling their own wagons
The first cases of the disease were reported in Toronto Canada, and within three days spread to New York. It took less than three days for the street car horses to become infected and unable to perform their jobs. Three weeks later, the New York Times reported that all of the cities public stables had been infected, and more than 95% of the horse population had been rendered useless by its owners. "It is not uncommon along the streets of the city to see horses dragging along with drooping heads and at intervals coughing violently."
 On October 30, 1872, a complete suspension of travel had been noted in New York. Massive backups at ports and with freighting companies occurred, because horses could no longer pull the loads from the docks. They couldn’t pull the coal cars that supplied fuel to the railroads.
Men were forced to pull wagons by hand. Trains and ships full of cargo stood unloaded. Perishable food spoiled.
"Coal cannot be hauled from the mines to run locomotives, farmers cannot market their produce, boats cannot reach their destination on the canals ..."
Fire vehicle without horses
One of the greatest casualties that was directly associated to the equine flu outbreak occurred in the city of Boston. Fire engines back then were drawn by horses, and with the animals sick, could no longer respond to fires. A fire broke out in the city on November 9th, and the firemen were required to pull their own equipment, severely impeding their firefighting abilities. The fire raged and became one of the worst disasters in the city’s history. It killed 13 people, destroyed 776 buildings, and cost over $75 million.
Out west, even the US cavalry was also affected. The flu virus had spread south to Mexico and Cuba, and also to the Pacific coast. The soldiers fought their Indian campaign against the Apache on foot. The Apaches had to do the same, as their animals became infected as well.
The vast majority of affected horses that survived (the mortality rate was said to be 10%) were fully healthy again the next year, but the economic impact of the outbreak was felt by major cities for years to come. 


Barbara Ouradnik said...

I love tidbits of trivia like this and I'd never heard of this point in history! Thank you, Peggy, for educating us once again! I look forward to seeing how this weaves into your book!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Peggy, I had never heard of this equine flu epidemic. I didn't realize horses caught the flu. Now I see all animals can be victims. Thanks for an interesting and educational post.

Rain Trueax said...

That was really interesting, Peggy. I can see how it would have really impacted economics and people back then.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I had only heard of this recently, during a discussion of West Nile Virus, but I didn't think through the far-reaching effects. Great post, Peggy!

I'm wondering if the horses that survived developed an immunity. Hmm. I'm writing a story set in 1872 right now.

Ciara Gold said...

Excellent post. Had no idea this contributed to the crash of 1873 but it makes sense. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, Peggy. I never heard of this epidemic. Good blog.

Lyn Horner said...

Peggy, I had never heard of the Great Epizootic. Thanks for sharing this valuable information. It does a lot to explain the 1873 economic crash and is surely something to keep in mind for future writing projects.

Yevette Behnke said...

It was the time of the H1N1 endemic that I read about that 18th century epzootic outbreak, it was absolutely horrible! Good thing we don't depend on horses anymore. And as far as virus infecting us humans, it's best to get your shot right before the flu season starts. Yevette @ US Health Works