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100 years ago, a train carrying Spanish flu pulled into Calgary. Within weeks, Alberta was in crisis

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Exactly one century ago, the Spanish flu was sweeping through Alberta, and Edna Traunweiser felt she had to do something to help.

Her only brother was one of about 6,000 Albertans who had been killed on the front lines of the war. He died in spring 1918.

The 29-year-old Calgarian had some training as a nurse but had yet to graduate. Still, she registered to help ailing soldiers at Sarcee camp hospital, located north of the Elbow River in what’s now Signal Hill.

Within one week, she’d contracted the illness. Within two weeks, she had pneumonia, and was buried a day after the war’s end.

“It killed nearly as many Canadians as the First World War did,” said Janice Dickin, professor emeritus at the University of Calgary. “But when you start looking at histories of the country, they will go on and on and tell you about what happened in the war, but you get one line for the flu epidemic.”

While people in the prime of their lives were the main victims of both the war and the flu, the war primarily claimed young men. Women (mainly volunteer nurses and expectant mothers), Indigenous people, and members of the working class were hit hard by influenza.

4,000 Albertans died, 38,000 fell ill

Traunweiser’s grave is one of 384 in Calgary, and more than 4,000 across the province, each marking a victim of the Spanish influenza between 1918 and 1920.

Alberta had a population of just about 500,000 at the time. More than 38,000 fell ill — about 13 per cent of the population back then.

Those are just the recorded cases — some historians estimate the death toll may be even higher.

This photo, published in the Calgary Herald on Oct. 24, 1918, shows staff at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Calgary wearing masks during the Spanish influenza epidemic. To try and slow the outbreak, the province ruled people must wear masks outside their homes. (Glenbow Archives)

As much as five per cent of the global population is estimated to have died from the flu, far more than the number of people who died in the war.

“[Traunweiser’s] death coming so soon after the loss of her brother is an almost insupportable grief to her parents,” read an article from the Calgary Herald, reproduced in the Grand Forks Sun in 1918. “The death … will come as a great shock to a large number of friends with whom Miss Traunweiser was very popular.”

Historian Harry Sanders visited Traunweiser’s grave in Calgary’s Union Cemetery on Armistice Day — now known as Remembrance Day — to pay his respects and see if anybody had placed a stone to remember her by.

“You go there, and you can read it’s the Traunweiser family plot, but nothing marks her grave,” he said.

Edna Traunweiser, who died after contracting the Spanish influenza while working as a volunteer nurse in November 1918, is buried here in her family plot in Calgary’s Union Cemetery. (Sarah Rieger/CBC)

The flu, which was a strain of H1N1, first appeared in Alberta a little more than a month before Traunweiser’s death.

Troops were being mobilized to join the Siberian Expeditionary Force.

Sick soldiers, returning from the front, encountered healthy ones who were boarding trains headed for Vancouver to depart for Russia.

Train travel enabled the illness to spread across crowded barracks and hospitals in a matter of days, wrote historian Mark Humphries, in a book on the impact of the First World War and the Spanish influenza on Canadians.

The name was a misnomer. Spain wasn’t participating in the war, so its press was freer to report details about the number of people impacted by the pandemic than countries that didn’t want to let their enemies know exactly how many of their soldiers and citizens were sick or dying, according to the American College of Physicians.

The first train carrying the virus pulled into Calgary at 4 a.m. on Oct. 2, 1918, and 12 soldiers were removed and quarantined at Sarcee camp, Humphries wrote. 

Two days later, the province’s health board met for the first time to declare a plan for the developing epidemic.

Women managed the crisis

“Both professional female nurses and volunteers now took the lead role in managing the crisis at the level of home and community,” wrote Humphries.

He quotes one nurse, who said, “It is dangerous — undoubtedly. So is overseas service; yet that did not hinder enlisting to any large extent. It would be better to have the flu than to carry through life the uneasy feeling that by your indifference you allowed some other woman to die.”

“Particularly at that time disease was women’s work, and it still is women’s work,” Dickin said. “None of that stuff is valued in this culture.”

Nurses and teachers working as volunteer nurses during the Spanish flu epidemic at an isolation hospital in Lloydminster in 1918. (Glenbow Archives)

Those struck by the illness were those impacted by the city’s rapid urbanization, living in “cramped, slum-like conditions,” wrote Sanders in a column about the epidemic.

Many were young mothers, some whose husbands had left for the war.

“If you know the dates of the flu epidemic, you could look in Calgary cemeteries and often you will find a woman and she is buried with a child,” said Dickin.

“You just have to assume what that would do to a population of losing young mothers.”

By January 1919, the city’s children’s shelter had filled with dozens of orphans, including six from one family.

First Nations were decimated

If Calgarians were hit hard, those living on reserves were hit harder.

Hobbema — now Maskwacis — was devastated. More than 12 per cent of the population died. 

Humphries wrote that a Royal North-West Mounted Police (now RCMP) investigation at the time found Indian agents were placing First Nations families in quarantine, then refusing to feed them.

Within a few weeks, the government and officials, like Calgary’s medical health officer Cecil Mahood, were scrambling to come up with a solution, as makeshift hospitals filled with otherwise healthy people, many aged 20 to 40, who fell rapidly ill.

Public places like schools and theatres were closed in some cities and towns, and hours were restricted.

“Since the flu would inevitably spread, the major efforts of Mahood, his small health department and the many volunteers, were aimed at simple relief of the symptoms, keeping the sufferer comfortable until recovery or death, and to slowing down the spread of the flu as much as possible,” wrote Dickin in an article on the epidemic.

‘Horrifying’

“It’s horrifying to think of it. These are places that we know and here was a time when you might die, you might drop dead in public as some did,” said Sanders.

Calls for female nurses, female drivers to ferry the volunteers on their rounds, and female cooks for soup kitchens to supply quarantined and bedridden patients, were made almost daily in Calgary’s paper.

“Men seem to have largely escaped being persuaded, impressed, or shamed into volunteerism. There are several reasons for this, the obvious being that many men were overseas with the army … but another reason existed: the epidemic was seen as a chance for women to do their bit for the war and for civilization,” Dickin wrote.

Residents of a small Alberta town recall their deadly brush with 1918’s Spanish flu. 6:09

One volunteer nurse — who had no formal training other than a first aid certificate — described the fear as she left Calgary for Drumheller’s makeshift hospital.

“Word that I was going to Drumheller spread through the coach. People stood up to get a glimpse of me — but they kept their distance. Their fear of the disease was so great that they wouldn’t even pass by my seat to go to the washroom,” wrote Gertrude Charters in a 1966 issue of Maclean’s magazine, recounting her experience as a young woman in October 1918.

“When we arrived at the school we found 32 men on those low couches. Six men had died in the night … even as a man was dying, another was waiting to occupy his bed.”

Masks made mandatory

By the end of October, the province ruled everyone must wear face masks outside their home to stop the spread of the disease, loitering was banned and police were given the authority to quarantine people if deemed necessary.

“There’s a well-known photograph taken in Calgary on Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice Day, which was a joyous day in Calgary. And you can see that people are not wearing their masks and authorities … let them get away with it that day,” Sanders said.

Calgarians celebrate Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, with a victory parade at city hall. Many in the crowd wore masks, as the Spanish influenza epidemic was sweeping through the city. However, police didn’t strongly enforce the rule that everyone must wear masks at public gatherings during the celebration. (Glenbow Archives)

Doctors worked to develop a vaccine, but the science was still in its infancy, and doctors focused on inoculating people against bacteria caused by the flu, instead of the viral H1N1 strain. It would be decades before the country would be able to sequence the vaccine and make it available free of charge to Canadians.

Ineffective as they were, the first doses were also came too late — not being distributed until the epidemic was already beginning to peak.

In some cases, the attempt to distribute vaccines hurt more than helped.

“They were so clueless that they were trying to take some of the vaccines to the Inuit populations in the Northwest Territories,” said Dickin. “But the same police that were bringing in the vaccine were bringing in the disease.”

Schools and other public buildings reopened in December after the Christmas holiday, leading to another wave of the illness sweeping through in 1919. It resurfaced again in 1920.

‘A sad postscript’

In 1922, Dr. Mahood’s wife Ina died from influenza.

“It’s just kind of a sad postscript,” said Sanders.

The pandemic had a lasting impact on the country’s health care, as it was one of the factors that led to the creation of a federal department of health.

In the 1930s, researchers finally established the pandemic had been caused by a virus and not bacteria, leading to the introduction of the first seasonal flu vaccines, which were introduced in Alberta in 1943. An H1N1 vaccine wasn’t released until much later, in 2009. 

Men in Alberta wear masks, likely made of cheesecloth and twine, during the Spanish influenza epidemic. (Library and Archives Canada / PA-025025)

The last major H1N1 pandemic hit Canada in 2009, with more than 1,600 cases in Alberta and 71 deaths. Researchers don’t know when the next global pandemic will hit, but it’s a common refrain among scientists to say it’s a question of “not if, but when” another will hit.

Seasonal flu also continues to be a danger. According to the latest data available from Alberta Health Services, as of Dec. 20, 15 Albertans have died so far this flu season, 741 have been admitted to hospital with lab-confirmed influenza and there are 3,806 recorded cases in total.

By that time, 1,162,696 doses of influenza vaccine had been administered province-wide.

It’s a stark difference to a century ago.

“Here, at a time when there are people who won’t get their shots or won’t even get inoculations for their children, we’re talking about a time when the authorities … could arrest you for not wearing a mask in public,” said Sanders. 

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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