#TDIWH—February 1, 1919: Influenza in New York State and Reservoir Maintenance

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918.

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918.

February 1, 1919: Article in Municipal Journal. Declares Influenza Cause Is Unknown. “Albany, N. Y.-According to a statement by Dr. Hermann M. Biggs, state commissioner of health, in this state in the month of October alone approximately 32,000 lives were lost, while in the country as a whole 400,000 people are believed to have died of so-called influenza during the months of September, October and November. “It is questionable,” says the statement, “if any recorded epidemic has produced in a similar space of time such disastrous results, yet, despite the efforts of an army of research workers both here and abroad, the definite causative agent of the disease remains today unknown. Until proof to the contrary is forthcoming it must be assumed that the epidemic represented a very virulent form of the same disease which has spread throughout the world from time to time for many centuries, and numerous excellent records of which are available for study in medical literature. At the present time there is no exact diagnostic procedure which may be relied upon positively to differentiate epidemic influenza from severe ‘colds’ accompanied by fever, cough and prostration, and frequently followed by pneumonia, such colds being due to a variety of well-known organisms. Nevertheless there are certain fairly characteristic symptoms in typical cases of epidemic influenza which at present justify a clinical diagnosis of that disease.”

Commentary: While influenza is not transmitted by water, the occurrence of articles like this in the engineering literature of the times shows how devastating the disease was in the U.S.

0201 Reservoir OpsFebruary 1, 1919: Article in Municipal Journal. Waterworks Operation—Reservoir Maintenance. Drawing Off Foul Bottom Water-Removing Vegetation from Exposed Bottom-Preventing and Destroying Algae. “Water in reservoirs in the great majority of cases improves in character by standing, suspended matters settling out and pathogenic bacteria (if any are present) settling with the heavier matters or dying in a few days. Color, also, generally fades out gradually. Part of the improvement is due to oxygen from the air and to sunlight, and the effects of these do not penetrate to any great depth; consequently it is desirable that there be a vertical circulation that will bring to the surface in succession water from all depths. ‘On the other hand, violent circulation or rapid motion will interfere with purification by sedimentation….

Water more than 15 or 20 feet deep is seldom stirred by wind, and any organic matter which may collect below this depth, receiving little oxygen from above, putrefies; color in the water’ at this depth is not bleached; and in general this deep water may become foul, dark colored and ill-smelling unless it receives little or no organic matter to produce such conditions.

In the autumn, the surface water cools more and more as the average air temperature falls, and finally becomes cooler and consequently heavier than the water at the bottom and settles to and displaces such bottom water, forcing it to the top, bringing the accumulated pollution with it. This fall “overturn” often causes this foul water to enter the supply mains.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 46:5(February 1, 1919): 86-7, 92-3.

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