We Heard the Bells – 1918 Flu Pandemic Trailer


[Narrator]
In bustling cities and remote
villages, in the United States and around the world, orphaned
children cried for their parents in 1918. People of all cultures struggled
with the same terrible threat, and within a matter of months,
as many as 50 million would be dead. What was that deadly threat? [music playing] [Maria Prats Gomez]
We had just come from, a few
years before, from Mexico. My two brothers were in
one room sick; I was sick in the other bedroom
with my mother. My mother told me that I
thought her black hair was a cat and I was afraid of
it with the delirium from the high fever. [Priscilla Reyna Jojola]
My father’s name is
Telesfore Reyna. At that time he was working in
Tennessee for Dupont Company. He would always bring up the
story about how he got sick while he was in Tennessee,
and how a lot of people from the village that had gone
were brought back sick. In 1918 my mother was like just
11 years old, but she remembers that the church bell would
ring every day, that there’s a certain bell, a notice
for the death. And she said she remembers
as a little girl how awful it sounded. [bell tolls] [Rachel Hollis]
Back in 1918, I was between
ten and twelve years old, I would say, and I got the flu,
and it was just my mother and I. Two of my friends, we went to
elementary school together, and both of them were
stricken with the flu. And I would go out to Bayview
Hospital, and they’d put her out on the porch in
the cold wintertime. And they had blankets, blankets
and a hood on her, but she died, both of them died. [Carmen Trujillo Portillo]
My mother was the midwife and
she tended to the people, the delivery of babies. She used to take me with her to
go and visit the new mothers, and I loved to go see the new
babies, and I cried because at that time she didn’t want
to take me with her, because she was tending to
the sick and the dying. One thing that stayed in
my mind was the pounding of the nailing of boards
together, making — I called them boxes —
coffins for the people. [bell toll, hammering of nails] [Dr. Tim Uyeki]
An influenza pandemic is
the emergence of a very new influenza-A virus, to which
most of the population has not previously been exposed and does
not have any immunity — no immune protection. Most people in the world
are susceptible. And so what you see is very
high numbers of people becoming sick worldwide. [music playing] [Reba Haimovitz]
My mother and father and my
two sisters all had the flu. It was a very sad period. There was like a sadness
over the city. I remember them telling me
that a young neighbor — they saw him coming home. They watched from the window,
coming from work. And the next afternoon,
they saw him carried out. He died. [music playing] [Narrator]
The influenza of 1918 was not
only much more lethal than seasonal flu, the death rate was
very high among young adults — strong young men and women
working to support and care for their families. What was different about the flu
that struck in 1918 and 1919? Brevig Mission is northwest of
Nome, Alaska on the Bering Sea. The fact that Brevig exists
today is remarkable, since of the 80 residents in
1918, only eight survived the flu pandemic. Over 50 years ago, a medical
student with an interest in viruses found his way
to the village. [Dr. Johan Hultin]
So I went out on the gravesite
and started to dig. And on the end of the second
day I found the first victim. Eventually I started to try to
grow the virus, trying to find an alive influenza virus. Week after week after week
after week, I got more and more discouraged. And eventually I had
no more specimen. And the virus was dead. [Narrator]
More than 25 years passed,
and new techniques for extracting DNA and RNA inspired
a young molecular pathologist to try to identify and describe
the virus that caused the 1918 flu pandemic. [Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger]
We were hoping to learn from
what we see in 1918 to apply it to the future, that we could
understand how pandemics form and why particular flu viruses
cause more disease than others. [Dr. Johan Hultin]
In March of 1997 in “Science
News,” there it was: “1918 Pandemic Virus Found.” A small sequence had
been discovered by Jeffery Taubenberger. I wrote a letter saying,
“If you need more specimen, let me know, and I will
go back to Alaska. And I got the permission
to go. Because I had the photograph
with me, I knew where the grave was. I had noticed there were some
bodies at seven feet, found a skeleton and then next
to the skeleton was a perfectly preserved woman, but I could
see the skin, and it was of an obese woman. I started to do
the post-mortem. And here’s the insulation
around — protecting the lungs from decay. The Eskimos are not obese —
there’s not that much food around, and they were active
and hardworking, particularly in 1918. To find one who had
extra calories, it was just remarkable. [Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger]
It became absolutely clear that
we would be able to sequence the rest of the virus
from that material. What we hope are to identify
mutations that are so crucial to this process that if a bird
virus were to adapt in the future to a human that they
would have to acquire some of the same changes. You could particularly design
drugs that might block or bind to that particular change
to prevent a bird virus from actually functioning
in humans. [Dr. Anne Schuchat]
We know that the new 2009
H1N1 virus is in almost every country of the world
already, and it was only first detected in — as a
new virus — recognized as a new virus in late April. So in just a matter of months
we’ve seen every continent in the world and virtually
every country affected. [Dr. Anthony Fauci]
In 1918 there wasn’t even a
realization that the pandemic flu was caused by a microbe,
by a virus. They had no idea
what it was. There were no vaccines at
the time nor were there any treatments directly against
the virus, and there wasn’t the intensive care capabilities
that we now have in hospitals. We are infinitely better
prepared now than we were a hundred years ago back in the
beginning of the 20th century. [music playing] [bell tolls]

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