History Bytes: Influenza in Newport

September 28, 2020

Newport Mercury, February 11, 1826

Signs are popping up at pharmacies and doctor’s offices reminding us all to get a flu shot in preparation for the coming flu season. In the 18th century, reports from The Newport Mercury show that influenza was a relatively common illness across American cities, and that it was considered an epidemic at points during the early 19th century.

This clip from the February 11, 1826 Newport Mercury discusses how influenza was treated, which included rest—and the occasional use of leeches.

Influenza – This troublesome complaint is prevailing to a very great extent in this city. – It is more extensive, though not as severe as the epidemic of February last. …[T]here is scarcely a family in which there is not one or more individuals barking and sneezing night and day. A few are confined to their beds, some to their chambers, but the great majority of the sick require only a comfortable seat by the side of a good fire, and some slight expectorant remedies.

The pain over the eyes, and sickness at the stomach seem to be as characteristic of this epidemic as a sore throat was of the one which prevailed last year. Gentle emetics are found useful in some cases, and leeches on the temples are almost indispensable.


Banner: Photograph of Newport Hospital nursing staff, Circa 1930. P5972, Collection of the Newport Historical Society.