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March 17, 2020

It’s Still Flu Season! Here’s a Few Helpful Precautions, ca. 1920

The flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that mainly affects the respiratory system. It’s usually a seasonal illness, with yearly outbreaks killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Though rare, completely new versions of the virus may infect people and spread quickly, resulting in pandemics (an infection that spreads throughout the world) with death tolls in the millions. Symptoms of the flu include sudden onset fever, coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and severe malaise, though it can also include vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

Influenza has plagued humankind for centuries and, given its highly variable nature, may continue to do so for centuries to come.

“Precautions against Influenza,” February 3, 1920. (National Archives)

This flyer from 1920 warned naval employees to take precautions against the contraction and spread of influenza.
  • Avoid persons with coughs and colds.
  • If obliged to cough or sneeze yourself, when near another person, turn the face or cover the mouth and nose with a handkerchief: such handkerchief should afterwards be sterilized by boiling or be destroyed.
  • Avoid common drinking cups.
  • Do not expectorate promiscuously.
  • Do not stand close to another person while conversing and do not talk directly at them. Discharges from the mouth are disseminated while talking.
  • Avoid poorly ventilated rooms and see that living and sleeping quarters are well ventilated.
  • Avoid crowds, especially within doors.
  • Spend as much time as possible in the open, especially in the sunshine.
  • Dress warmly, avoid “wet feet”. Keep regular hours.


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