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MUSEUM MUSINGS: The flu bug hits Boone County

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on February 4, 2021

The editor of the Boone County Headlight had some advice for his readers in the Jan. 15, 1953, edition of the paper.

“If the ‘flu’ bug hasn’t gotten you – better watch out. One man wanted to know how you knew when you had it. Brother, you’ll know without questioning anyone!”

During the winter of 1952-53, a severe influenza pandemic swept the world. Mexico City reported that 40% of its 3.5 million residents were down with the flu. The Blytheville (Ark.) Courier News said that more than half the nation felt the grip of the flu epidemic.

The king of Belgium came down with the flu. Rather than broadcasting it over the radio, Pope Pius XII had to have his annual address read for him, because he was recovering from the flu. Comedian Jack Benny had to cancel a television appearance, because he was in the hospital with the flu. Suffering from influenza, actors Debbie Reynolds and Keenan Wynn bowed out of a USO show in Korea.

Boone County was not immune to the epidemic.

On Jan. 13, 1953, papers reported that Circuit Judge Woody Murray, because of illness to jurors, had postponed trials scheduled for the January term at the Boone County Courthouse.

On Jan. 17, it was reported that 38 schools across Arkansas were closed because of flu outbreaks. Those included Valley Springs, Bergman and Harrison. According to newspaper accounts, attendance at Harrison schools was from 35% to 50% of normal.

The Headlight also reported that many clubs, organizational meetings and parties had been postponed due to the sickness.

The Headlight quoted a local physician who said that it was the prevention of complications, such as pneumonia, which the medical profession was attempting to do in the case of influenza patients. In most instances, antibiotics were being given to prevent pneumonia and other complications.

Another dreaded disease shared the Headlight’s front page on Jan. 15, 1953.

The Boone County March of Dimes, with only three weeks left in its fund-raising drive in the fight against polio, had raised only $400 of its $6,000 goal.

County chairman Bob Black appealed to Boone County citizens to help fight polio.

“We have just come through the worst recorded polio epidemic of all times and we must now shift into high in the drive in Boone County. The people of Boone County must realize the seriousness of the plight we face.”

According to medical sources, a major outbreak of polio occurred in 1952 in the United States, resulting in over 57,600 cases and 3,145 deaths.

Events in Harrison to raise money for the March of Dimes included a radio auction over KHOZ of talent, services and merchandise and a porchlight canvass by Harrison Jaycettes. The City of Harrison also agreed to give to the March of Dimes all dimes placed in parking meters during the last week of January. The Rainbow Girls placed containers in most stores for the collection of dimes.