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[BN] Chronicles: Local doc says 'liquor seemed the best remedy' for pandemic in 1919

[BN] Chronicles: Local doc says 'liquor seemed the best remedy' for pandemic in 1919

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drinking cures the flu 1919.jpg

from the Buffalo Enquirer, 1919

In just one short year since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, we can look back and say that modern medicine has allowed us the ability to know how it is spread and best practices to contain and stop that spread.

Many times over the last 12 months, we’ve looked back at the flu pandemic of 1918 for clues about dealing with our current situation – but not all of the century-old analysis and science holds up.

In fact, in October 1919 – one year removed from the worst of the flu in Buffalo, when 218 people died in a two-day period – the Buffalo Express offered the interesting perspective of a St. Catharines physician on why the death toll was so high locally.

Dr. Fred Sheahan believed “a great many had gone to an untimely end because of the impossibility to get a supply of alcohol.”

The Ontario Temperance Act banned the sale of alcohol in the province from 1916-1927. Sheahan blamed the law for problems with the flu and life in general for Ontarians.

“There should be some way by which decent people could secure liquor,” the Express reported him as saying – especially for those suffering from flu.

“Referring to the flu epidemic, Sheahan stated that it had been found that if patients can be made to perspire, they did well from then on. Liquor seemed the best remedy.”

Sheahan, apparently, wasn’t alone in that assessment, which hasn’t stood the test of time.

In the midst of coverage of the flu epidemic, a Labatt's Beer and Ale ad in The News claimed that “those who drink it daily are fortified against the attack of influenza.”

labatt 1918.jpg

Ad in The Buffalo Evening News, 1918

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo's pop culture history for BN Chronicles, has written six books, and teaches English at Bishop Timon - St. Jude High School. 

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