Feeling a bit under the weather today, Carole Lombard? (Those of us in southern California literally are, as Los Angeles and immediate environs are seeing their first notable rain in close to a year.) It just so happens LA is undergoing its worst bout of the flu in nearly a century (as is much of America), and this strain has led to several deaths in the county. You're still urged to get a flu shot as a precaution, as I did this September.
If it's any solace to those who are stricken, Lombard went what you're going through several times, including a bout in early 1936 reported in Hearst's San Antonio Light:
At the time, Carole perhaps reflected things could be worse. After all, as a child she survived an outbreak of flu that killed millions throughout the world, and was far more lethal than the concurrent World War. Among those dead were 650,000 Americans.
It's merely a coincidence that 2018 marks the centennial of this influenza strain, and one can imagine Jane Alice Peters -- 10 years old that October, and whose ties to the movies then were limited to theater attendance and her dreams -- took every precaution such as wearing masks, as likely did her mother and two elder brothers.
The University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine has compiled a thorough "influenza encyclopedia" examining this pandemic (https://www.influenzaarchive.org/). Its effects are profiled on 50 American cities, from huge New York and Chicago to smaller burgs such as Syracuse and Des Moines. And since Los Angeles is among those covered, we're able to note the flu's effects on a metropolis rapidly growing thanks to oil and the motion picture industry.
Above is Broadway at 6th Street on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. The flu hit LA in mid-September, on a ship at the harbor. The Naval Reserve Station there was placed under quarantine on Sept. 28, a day after the state made influenza a reportable disease. The first civilian outbreak hit 55 students at Polytechnic High School downtown (Washington & Flower).
Health officials told the city to begin a campaign to limit or control the disease, and on Oct. 11, Mayor Frederic Thomas Woodman declared a state of emergency. All public gatherings -- from schools to movies to funerals -- were shut. The move also banned filming mob scenes or the public attending the shooting of scenes. Angelenos coped with these restrictions (all public transit vehicles were disinfected daily), and three temporary hospitals were hastily created. Gauze masks were urged, but not made mandatory. Still, some were skeptical; note this Los Angeles Times cartoon from Oct. 13:
On Oct. 25, the state Department of Public Health endorsed public vaccination, but people at the time were skeptical about the efficiency of mass inoculation and it had relatively little impact. There was controversy from business and cultural groups (including theater owners, who were hit hard) over how to handle things, and city government was in limbo for much of November.
The closure order wasn't lifted until Dec. 2, but the strain had not been completely eradicated, especially among children. That led to schools being closed Dec. 10 (most wouldn't reopen until well into January, and some didn't until early February), with city health officials given power to quarantine homes, businesses, hotels and other sites. Many of the city's 90,000 students were instructed by correspondence courses.
Despite much confusion and arguments from the business community, Los Angeles had a relatively low influenza fatality rate of 494 per 100,000, compared to 673 per 100,000 in San Francisco.
For more on this, visit https://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-losangeles.html# as well as http://articles.latimes.com/2005/nov/20/local/me-then20 and http://losangeles.legalexaminer.com/miscellaneous/a-short-history-of-the-great-swine-flu-epidemic/.
And please get vaccinated.