Appalachia Appalachian Medicine

Flu In Western NC

Flu in Western NC

The Flu has played havoc here Cherokee County over the last 2 months. There were so many children sick with the flu that they let school out early before Christmas vacation in hopes the sickness would subside before the 2015 school year started.

One of my fellow employees had the flu over Christmas. She thought her household was done with winter sickness until her husband tested positive for the flu just last week.

Ever since I had the flu in 2009 I’ve been overly paranoid about getting it again. I wash my hands a gazillion times at work each day and I’ve been taking elderberry to beef up my immune system along with my usual vitamins for the last 2 months.

In today’s world, modern medicine can at least ease the pain of having the flu by lowering your temperature and helping ease body aches. But when I think of the spread of the flu my mind always goes to the 1918 flu epidemic-a time in history when the family medicine cabinet did not hold over the counter fever reducers.

In 1918 The NC Board of Health offered the following advice about the Flu Epidemic:

“Influenza and What You Should Know About It,” Bulletin of the North Carolina Board of Health, 33:5 (1918), pp. 38–39.


How and Where Influenza is Spread

  1. By careless spitting, coughing, sneezing, and using the same drinking vessel or towel others have used. The disease germs are carried in the spittle and in the little drops of secretion from the nose and throat.
  2. In crowds and public gatherings, churches, schools, picture shows, business houses, fairs, circuses, trains, or in any other places where people congregate. Soda fountains are especially dangerous if they do not supply individual sanitary cups and sterilized spoons.

How to Keep Away From Taking Influenza

  1. Keep away from crowds, especially indoor gatherings.
  2. Avoid people who cough, sneeze and spit without holding a handkerchief over the nose and mouth.
  3. Do not use common drinking cups or towels, and keep away from the soda fountain that does not supply individual cups and sterilized spoons.
  4. Keep the bowels open. Snuff Vaseline up the nose three times a day. Gargle mouth and throat and rinse out nose with warm salt water, using a level teaspoonful of salt to a glass of warm water. Sleep and eat regularly. These are very important.
  5. Keep in the open air and sunshine as much as practicable and have good ventilation in the home and office. Sleep with your windows open.
  6. Wash your hands before eating and never put your unwashed hands in your mouth.
  7. Do not give the disease to others—when you sneeze or cough always bow the head and cover both the nose and mouth with handkerchief.

Symptoms of Influenza and What to Do if You Take It

  1. In most cases a person taken with influenza feels sick rather suddenly. He feels weak, has pains in the eyes, ears, head or back, and may be sore all over. Many patients feel dizzy, some vomit. Most of the patients complain of feeling chilly, and with this comes a fever in which the temperature rises to 100 degrees to 104 degrees. In most cases the pulse remains relatively slow.In appearance one is struck by the fact that the patient looks sick. His eyes and the inner side of his eyelids may be slightly bloodshot or congested. There may be running from the nose, and there may be some cough. These signs of a cold may not be marked; nevertheless the patient looks and feels very sick.
  2. If you have any of the above symptoms, go to bed at once and send for a doctor and follow his directions explicitly.
  3. If you cannot obtain a doctor at once, stay in bed with plenty of cover to keep you warm, open all the windows and keep them open, take medicine to open the bowels freely, and take nourishing food, as milk, eggs, and broth, every four hours.
  4. Allow no one else to sleep in the same room. Protect others by sneezing and coughing into cloths which can be boiled or burned.
  5. Stay in bed until a doctor tells you it is safe to get up; or, until you have been without a fever for at least four days.

What To Do After Recovering From an Attack of Influenza

  1. Influenza is a treacherous disease. If one is fortunate enough to escape pneumonia during or immediately following the attack, the lungs and respiratory system are frequently so inflamed that tuberculosis develops. The heart is overworked and needs rest. Therefore, do not return to work or leave home until you have regained your strength, whether it is a week or a month.
  2. If complete recovery does not take place within two weeks, have your family physician carefully and thoroughly examine every vital organ and function of the body. Follow instructions the doctor may give you after such an examination.

Taken from NC Digital Collection.


Much of the advice given by the NC Board of Health in 1918 would still be good advice today-I’m not so sure about the sniffing of Vaseline though. It is true sickness can hit you quickly. When the girls were little and a stomach virus infiltrated our home-it would show it’s ugly head in both girls within a matter of hours.

Unless folks lived in cities or towns I doubt they would have even heard about the NC Board of Health’s advice-much less read it. Families who lived in rural areas of Western NC and beyond relied on oldtimey Medicninal Remedies and a good deal of faith to get through the sicknesses that sometimes blindsided their homes.

Before the Flu Epidemic of 1918 was over-it killed millions of people across the world. If you ever find yourself in an old graveyard look around for 1918 gravestones and you’ll probably find quite a few. I’ve noticed them throughout the old graveyards in the Smoky Mountain Park as well as the ones in my neck of the woods. The flu making itself known in the mountains of east TN and western NC was proof the outside world had reached one of the most isolated regions in the US.

Hoping the flu has by-passed your household this year and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it by-passes mine too.


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  • Reply
    Sandra henderson
    March 8, 2022 at 8:00 am

    I stumbled upon this older, before covid by many year, post. Might be interesting to repost, considering….

  • Reply
    January 27, 2015 at 6:16 am

    In the wee hours of Jan 2 2015 our daughter had to be rushed to the hospital after a seizure,, she had aspirated into her lungs and for the next 4 days we were in a hospital full of flu and stomach virus patients of all ages.. My Wife and I were popping elderberry tablsts and capsules every day, and now that we’ve home for a while Thank the Good Lord none of us got the stomach bug or the Flu..

  • Reply
    January 23, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    HI Tipper.Little girls use to jump rope to this songs back in 1918.I had a little bird,It’s name was Enza,I opened up the window, And in-flew-Enza.God Bless.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2015 at 3:21 am

    I’ve been wobbly since Tuesday with some sort of bug, but I’m not complaining because I’m just SO darned grateful it has not turned into flu! Some years ago I was down for weeks with flu, and it became very clear to me how people could die from it. That was about all that was clear though…everything else was just a blur.
    I hope you and yours and all the Blind Pig readers will stay healthy this year!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2015 at 12:52 am

    We’ve done ok here so far, praise and thank God, but I know there have been about 3 dozen lives lost in NC alone to this flu this time around. Very sad!!!
    I was trying to remember which Grandmother did this, but I can’t, but one of them, at the first sign of any illness, doped you up with tablespoons full of Milk of Magnesia to give you the runs to run the sickness right out of you, and I’m thinking that was probably very dangerous for someone who was already dehydrated due to vomiting, etc., but it was a pretty common thing to do back then.
    Have you ever heard of that weird “remedy” for illness?
    God bless.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Someone cut cables here during the night. A lot of people and business had no internet most of the day. I received the link to your post after 6 PM.
    I haven’t had the flu in many years. I’m dealing with something much worse now – THE SHINGLES. This involves a lot of uncomfortableness and a great deal of PAIN.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 21, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    It seems all the CDC story address didn’t load. try

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    This story hits very close to home, my Great Grandmother and two of my Great Uncles died during the 1918 Flu Pandemic. A cousin of mine worked for the CDC later and she wrote an article about the event. It is online at Pandemic Influenza Storybook along with other stories of losses. Go to if you want to read further of the suffering these people endured.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the Flu information and
    story of 1918 when the Flu killed
    so many.
    I tried to be careful this year,
    washing my hands often, but I still got a good dose of the Flu for 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. I took Tylenol for 4 days for the fever and then it moved into my chest.
    It was rough going for the next
    few days, but Amoxicellin finally
    knocked it out
    My youngest granddaughter goes to
    a Christian School and came down
    recently with the Flu. At the
    Emergency Room, the Doctor gave
    her Liquid Tamiflu and she snapped out of it real quick…Ken

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    My Dad was born in 1918. His father and three of his uncles caught the influenza in October. Miraculously, my grandfather survived, but his three brothers did not- two in their 20’s (leaving widows and young children) and one in his teens. These were mournful times in the Arkansas Ouachita Mts.
    In Alabama, my maternal grandmother also caught the flu as a teen. She was thankful to survive, but lost all her hair!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 21, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    The remedies today are much better than ours were. I remember musterole. turpentine and Raleigh salve would cure anything.
    I still remember the smell of all three.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 21, 2015 at 10:53 am

    AHHGGG, I thought I was doing good staying out of crowds…
    Now then, I read about Shirl saying 11/12 people contact packages before their final destination…
    and then says “that paper holds germs like nothing else”!!
    Guess, I’m going to the mailbox down the road, and if the FedEx and UPS bring up packages, will have to be masked and armed with 99.0% Lysol germ killer spray before bringing in the mail or packages…I never really gave the paper/packages that much thought! HELP!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Will you please ask Truman, what he is referring to when he says, “mms taken as directed in most instances prevent the flu”?
    If those are chocolate M&M’s, I can take those without a problem!
    We have been downing, oranges, Halo’s/Cuties and bottles of Scuppernong white grape juice!
    I had the real flu once in the late fifties. Like Sheryl I missed school and was flat in bed a week or more. I think that was the last time we had a doctor that made house calls…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 21, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I don’t know about the sniffing of Vaseline, but Pearl Cable tells the story that when her daughter, Velma, contracted pneumonia as an infant, Dr. Riter soaked some linens with Vicks Vaporub and wrapped her torso in those. He told them not to remove them for a couple of weeks. Velma was, in fact, cured.
    Regarding the elderberry – I recently saw an article which I unfortunately failed to make a record of which talked about a fellow who put elderberry shoots in his corn crib to keep mice and rats away. Time for a column on elderberry wine or jelly!

  • Reply
    Steve in tn
    January 21, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Bad stuff. Have not had it but can’t go to the nursing homes because most are on semi lockdown. We all miss the chance to play music for the residents and I am sure they miss the attention. When it is time for the flu to hit I guess we just have to hunker down.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 9:38 am

    My immediate family has been blessed with good health this winter. My cousins have not been so fortunate. One spent nine days in the hospital and developed double pneumonia while another rather young cousin has been on a ventilator in ICU for several days. The last time I got the flu was in 1995. I came in contact with thousands of packages each day on my job. They say an average of 11-12 people touched those packages before they reached their destination. Hopefully, less package handling with the automated system at our delivery centers will keep the flu under control. I’m especially careful and use tons of hand sanitizer when handling my mail or paper money. Paper holds germs like nothing else.
    My parents always went for the laxatives when one of us kids got sick with the flu.

  • Reply
    Teresa Atkinson
    January 21, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Ugh – both of us had it — Crusty Old Guy been sick now for almost 6 weeks. It did turn into Bronchitis so he has really struggled – Me – I took tamilflu at first symptoms and only had a couple of really crappy days.
    Much love – Many Prayers

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 9:35 am

    A lot of that advice would still apply today. My best defense was to use alcohol pads to clean phones at work.
    The 1918 flu epidemic especially affected the maternal side of my family. My gr grandmother died of that terrible flu in rural WV. She left a houseful of young children including an infant. It was interesting to find none of the other family succumbed to the flu. It seems it affected mostly younger people who had never built any immunity. Many of her young children never made it to adulthood, and this may be due to being shuffled about at a very young age among already overwhelmed relatives. Fortunately effort made just recently to replace the field stones with small inscripted tombstones on the children’s graves.
    Some older folks said as many as three were taken to one cemetery in a day. It was a very sad time in rural areas where it took effort by the entire family to assure survival.
    I work on genealogy in my spare time, and I find many of the 1918 influenza deaths. Also, many young women died in childbirth.
    We are so fortunate to live in a time where so much is available to keep us healthy. Tipper, you seem to do a great job cooking healthy meals instead of surviving on drive-thru. Keep up the good work and avoid that ole flu bug.

  • Reply
    Truman McKillip
    January 21, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Tipper you might be interested to know that mms taken as directed will in most cases prevent flu or at least markedly reduce the symptoms and time plagued with the virus. Truman

  • Reply
    Patty hall
    January 21, 2015 at 9:13 am

    No flu in our household but the facility I work at had several cases of the flu. It’s hard on the elderly, even if they recover it weakens their body.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 9:06 am

    That was an interesting piece of health history. Yes, so much of it will work today, except a doctor doesn’t usually come to homes much. Hospitals are now available to us, thus, saving many people. I hope that the flu by-passes us this season.

  • Reply
    Linda Lane
    January 21, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Thank you for the article about the flu. My Mother said two of her brothers died in the 1918-19 flu epidemic.
    The flu and pneumonia has hit our part of Southwest Virginia-Coeburn, Norton, Wise, Clintwood and Pound to name just a few. My sister-in-law in Roanoke said the hospitals are full of it there as well.
    I thank the Good Lord I am almost over mine and my husband has not taken it, praying he won’t get it.
    I enjoy your articles and recipes very much.
    Have a blessed day!

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    January 21, 2015 at 8:45 am

    My Dad was born in Waynesville in Nov.1918. My Granny Nichols told us of giving birth with the whole family having the flu. No one would come in their house. They would bring food to the porch. Granny would put the dirty laundry ourside. A neighbor would come and boil the clothes over an outside fire. I think that it was only a miracle of God that my Dad survived. My Dad was her last baby. There were 3 older girls. They all lived through that horrible time. Barbara

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 21, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Flu was bad around here as well. Schools closed before Christmas vacation in hopes to knock it in the bud. I avoided some late Christmas crowds by ordering online with delivery to our home!
    I still hate getting out in big crowds this time of year…well, anytime I guess. I’m getting spoiled with this online shopping, free shipping thing. I usually hunt down the best buy and try to calculate time, gas, infected crowds, etc. before ordering.
    I don’t know about having all the windows open in the winter…as
    “IN-FLU-ENZA” would happen! Get it?…you know…”in-flew-in-za”!
    Old joke…Oh well, stay well.
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…This morning the birds seem to especially singing their sweet winter songs. The Carolina Wren, is already singing his territorial song. The Chickadee’s melody is especially sweet sounding on cool winter mornings.
    In flew the Jays screaming “thief, thief”, trying to chase away the Cardinals, even though they keep “chipping” and back mouthing the Jays…which are the true seed thief’s…The Dove’s haven’t started their “cooing” and “struts” yet…but will soon. They just sit, “fluffed up” and when it is their turn to feed just whistle in with their wings! Of course the Joree’s are “che-winking”, no “joreee” or “drink your tea” call this morning. But, they are hopping from the feeder, to the ground back to limbs etc. trying to confuse them all!
    Sorry about this bird report! I was just listening to them as I was typing…Evidently they don’t have the “bird flu”!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 21, 2015 at 8:31 am

    While not around for the 1918 epidemic, there was an awful one in the 50’s. I cough it and remember missing 6 weeks of school. This flu however gave immunity to most of these new strains. I believe they called it the Asiatic flu.
    advice was good, except for the vasiline. I wonder why not Vics? Both are no longer recommended to go up your nose though. I also had to smile at stay in bed til your doctor comes. Not happening around here.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2015 at 8:16 am

    They say my grandpa’s brother surcommed to influenza that year when he entered the army. He left Flat Rock and went to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, SC. Within a month the train brought him home in a box. He is buried at Mud Creek Church. I’ve always thought that was the saddest thing.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 21, 2015 at 8:01 am

    I had the real deal flu once in my life and I don’t ever want to do that again. The whole family had it at the same time. The Dear Hunter, Papaw Tony, and me. We were all too sick to move. Papaw Tony kept trying to scrub everything with Clorox to kill the germs. Family wanted to help up but we wouldn’t let them near for fear they would catch it too. We were a month getting over it.
    I agree, most of that old advise sounds good for today. I think the real secret to not catching the flu is in a healthy immune system and a good mental outlook on life.

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    January 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

    MAN OH MAN! That sounds like the worse of times. My Daddy was 18 years old and remembered well that dreadful time and he always shared those unforgettable stories with us. Sad that they just had ‘home remedies’ and had to watch the passing of their loved ones!I can still hear my Daddy talking about ‘Poor Little Jesse’ as he recalled the doctor coming to their log house. But he couldn’t do anything to save poor Jesse.
    Kindly, Eva Nell

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