My paternal grandfather was one of the fatalities. He was living in Naturita, Colorado when he, his pregnant wife, and three young children came down with the deadly flu. His family survived. Two months after my grandfather died, his wife gave birth to my father. As a child, that unfortunate sequence of events always held a morbid fascination for me. Decades later I wrote a fictionalized account of the flu’s impact on my family in Never Done, a novel.
While doing research for the book, I was shocked by what I learned, yet so riveted I had to force myself to stop reading about the disease and get back to writing about it. I was surprised to learn how easily the Spanish flu spread. Touching a flu patient, even being in the same room was enough to catch it, making the 1918 flu more virulent than Europe’s bubonic plague. Although the plague resulted in more deaths, they occurred over a span of two centuries versus one and a half years for Spanish flu.
The fourteenth century plague was spread by rodents and their lice, whereas the 1918 flu was a virus. Early in the twentieth century, few scientists, let alone doctors knew a virus pathogen even existed. An estimated 25 percent of the US population was infected with the baffling illness, and as many as 650,000 Americans died from it. The mountainous regions of Colorado were particularly hard hit due to the Western Slope’s large concentration of miners, men whose lungs were already compromised by the dust and bad air they breathed underground.