Fact Check

The Do's and Don'ts of Flu Prevention from 1918

A hundred years later and this simple advice still rings true.

Published Aug 12, 2021

Image Via Wikipedia
A newspaper clipping from 1918 informing readers of the do's and don'ts of flu prevention is authentic.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021, one of the most repeated pieces of medical advice was to wear a mask and avoid big crowds, especially indoors. Well, it turns out that medical experts have been doling out this simple advice for more than a century.

An image supposedly showing a newspaper article entitled "The Do's and Don'ts for Influenza Prevention" that was published in the Douglas Island News, a newspaper from Douglas, Alaska, in 1918 was widely circulated on social media:

This is a genuine newspaper clipping from the Nov. 15, 1918, edition of the Douglas Island News. This piece of advice was published directly next to a news article reporting that city health authorities were making it mandatory for everyone in the city to wear a mask while away from their homes.

You can see both articles below from Newspapers.com:

Much of the advice in this column still rings true today. While influenza and COVID-19 are not the same disease, they are both contagious respiratory illnesses, and can both be prevented using similar measures. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have repeatedly emphasized the benefits of wearing a mask, similar to the advice doled out during the flu pandemic in 1918. Also, health officials have urged citizens to avoid crowds and to wash their hands, similar to the advice given in the above-displayed newspaper clipping.

While health officials in 2021 have not told anyone (as far as we can tell) to gargle with a solution of salt and water, there has been much discussion about putting the safety of the community ahead of the convenience of individuals. In 1918, this do's and don'ts list stated:

"Respect the quarantine regulations ... Do not neglect your mask. Do not disregard the advice of a specialist just because you do not understand. Do not disregard the rights of a community - obey cheerfully the rules issued by the authorities. Do not think you are entitled to special privileges... Do not think it is impossible for you to get or transmit influenza."

Unfortunately, health officials have had to repeatedly issue similar advice during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many have argued that mask mandates impinged on their personal freedoms. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in July 2020:

“You have to have responsibility for yourself but also a societal responsibility that you’re getting infected is not just you in a vacuum. You’re propagating the pandemic."

Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed a more forceful version of this sentiment in August 2021, saying:

"There is a virus here. It kills people. And the only way we prevent it is to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to do social distancing, washing your hands all the time, and not just to think about, 'Well, my freedom is being kind of disturbed here' No. Screw your freedom. With freedom comes obligations and responsibilities. We cannot just say 'I have the right to do x, y and z.' When you infect other people, that is when it gets serious. It's no different than a traffic light. We put the traffic light in the intersection so that someone doesn't kill someone else by accident."

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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