Japanese Health Manual Created During the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic Offers Timeless Wisdom: Stay Away from Others, Cover Your Mouth & Nose, and More

In August of 1918, a group of sumo wrestlers returned to Japan from an exhi­bi­tion in Tai­wan. When they came down with an ill­ness it was first diag­nosed as bron­chi­tis or pneu­mo­nia. In fact, they had returned with the Span­ish Flu.

The “Sumo Flu,” as it was first called by some in the Japan­ese press, was not tak­en as seri­ous­ly as the more preva­lent cholera, which had a high­er death rate at the time. But cholera was not as infec­tious. By the time the Span­ish Flu had burned its way through the pop­u­la­tion of Japan it would leave behind near­ly half a mil­lion dead, either from the flu itself or sec­ondary health com­pli­ca­tions.

These posters (seen above and through­out this post) were part of Japan’s Cen­tral San­i­tary Bureau’s plan to edu­cate the pub­lic, part of a 455-man­u­al that detailed symp­toms and pre­scrip­tions, and sug­gest­ed four rules to avoid con­tract­ing the virus and spread­ing it to oth­ers.

Right now, a lot of us are try­ing to do num­ber one–Stay Away from Others–without going crazy, some of us are fol­low­ing num­ber two (Cov­er Your Mouth and Nose), everybody’s wait­ing for num­ber three (Get Vac­ci­nat­ed), and if you replace “Gar­gle” (Rule Num­ber 4) with “anx­i­ety drink­ing,” well we’ve got num­ber four cov­ered.

Back up to Num­ber Three: the vac­cine in ques­tion at that time helped with symp­toms of pneu­mo­nia, which was a sec­ondary cause of death. If a person’s immune sys­tem could fight off the lung infec­tion part of the flu, they stood a bet­ter chance of sur­vival.

And for Num­ber Two, the Japan­ese response of wear­ing face masks to fight infec­tion has con­tin­ued to this day. Any­one who has vis­it­ed Japan, espe­cial­ly dur­ing cold and flu sea­son, will have noticed the rou­tine use of masks. Will oth­er coun­tries see this become a tra­di­tion in the future? We will have to wait and find out.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment of Japan, as well as most places around the globe in 1918, did not have the sci­ence or knowl­edge to treat the virus or enforce rules. A lot of deci­sions for the pub­lic were left to var­i­ous pre­fec­tures to decide. Most doc­tors and researchers were already busy fight­ing cholera (as men­tioned above) and tuber­cu­lo­sis. For a while, the virus was misiden­ti­fied as a bac­te­ria. And just like in Amer­i­ca in 1919, the Japan­ese pub­lic thought things had got­ten back to nor­mal when the ini­tial cas­es dropped–they were sad­ly mis­tak­en and, after let­ting its guard down, the Japan­ese were hit with a sec­ond wave, with a mor­tal­i­ty rate five times that of the first wave. As it spread from the city to the coun­try­side, the Span­ish Flu wiped out entire vil­lages. Quack­ery and snake oil sales­men promised mir­a­cle cures. Oth­ers turned to spir­i­tu­al­ism, prayer, and spe­cial devo­tion­al tem­ple vis­its. The virus didn’t care.

But it also soon fiz­zled out. Japan report­ed no new cas­es in June of 1919, and that was that. (Cur­rent­ly, that does not seem to be the case in Wuhan or Ger­many.)

As the say­ing goes, his­to­ry doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes, and so take these posters as a warn­ing and as a form of reas­sur­ance that we will get through this.

via Spoon and Tam­a­go

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pan­dem­ic Lit­er­a­ture: A Meta-List of the Books You Should Read in Coro­n­avirus Quar­an­tine

The His­to­ry of the Plague: Every Major Epi­dem­ic in an Ani­mat­ed Map

Down­load Full Issues of MAVO, the Japan­ese Avant-Garde Mag­a­zine That Announced a New Mod­ernist Move­ment (1923–1925)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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