How the Deadly 1918 Spanish Flu Spread Rapidly in Philadelphia

The parade was meant to raise money and be a symbolic show of patriotism as the nation fought World War I. The consequences, however, for the estimated 200,000 people who showed up for the Liberty Loan Parade in 1918 weren't symbolic, they were deadly.

"Within 72 hours of that parade, all 32 hospitals in Philadelphia at the time were full," said Nancy Hill, a manager at the Mütter Museum.

An exhibit called "Spit Spreads Death" that opened last fall at the museum explains why. There was an infectious disease called the Spanish flu spreading rapidly, but the city still held its parade, "Despite public health officials warning that it would be a bad idea to gather large groups of people together during the time of a viral outbreak," said Hill.

That's because the disease was highly contagious. After six months, 17,500 people in Philadelphia had died from the disease.

"That's sad," exclaimed Inayah Brown as she was touring the exhibit. Brown was at the museum with her college class. To her, questions like "Could it happen again?" posed on the exhibit's walls feel relevant.

"We have the coronavirus now, that's the big craze. And then you have things like the flu like how simple it was, but it was killing so many people," said Brown.

While a lot has changed in the last 100 years, historians still say it's important to learn from the past.

"It's easy to think of yourself as a singular case, but you go to the grocery store, you visit your grandma, and there's a lot of things you can do to not only protect yourself but the people around you," said Hill.
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