THE FORGOTTEN FLU

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Description: Many feared that influenza would not only disrupt life but also would cause the end of civilization.1 Suicide rates in the United States increased during the pandemic.7 In rural areas, such as in Kentucky, flu victims starved to death because their neighbors were afraid to bring them food.6 In many U.S. cities, social gatherings (e.g., church services and public performances) were suspended and schools were closed.6 Corpses remained uncollected in homes and on streets, and morgues overflowed with bodies.1 The Psychiatric Impact When considering the psychiatric impact of the virus that caused the 1918 pandemic, one has to remember the state of psychiatric research at the time. In 1926, Menninger hypothesized that pregnant women who had influenza produced children who later developed schizophrenia.9 Others speculated that the infection disturbed fetal development and led to lower birth weights, and that this was the mechanism through which influenza led to schizophrenia.10 While these hypotheses have not been proven, the long-term effect of in utero infection remains an area of schizophrenia research interest.11 Effect on Psychiatric Hospitals Public mental hospitals in the United States in 1918 were self-contained communities,12 but this relative isolation did not spare them from the pandemic.
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