I thought with all the talk of H1N1 Virus and just the plain old flu, this tidbit might be interesting to some.
The Dictionary of Domestic Medicine and Household Surgery by Spencer Thomson ©1852
INFLUENZA.—This disease was cited under the article Epidemic, as the best specimen of an epidemic disease. It is a peculiar feverish attack, accompanied with catarrhal affection of the air-tubes of the lungs, and great prostration of strength. It is not uncommon to call various forms of cold and catarrh, influenza; but the true influenza is a very distinct disease, and seldom occurs but as an epidemic, attacking large numbers at once.
The symptoms of influenza are those of general fever ; coming on suddenly, there is shivering, loss of appetite, perhaps vomiting, heat and thirst, with cough, frontal headache, and generally great depression and languor. The feverish symptoms may last from one day to ten, but their general duration is from three to five, or seven days, the coui^h usually remaining a variable time, after the acute symptoms are gone, according to exposure and circumstances, such as a predisposition to cough, &c.
To the strong and healthy, influenza is but a trifling disease ; it certainly prostrates even them for a few days, and leaves them weak, but it is in almost all cases perfectly devoid of danger—with ordinary care—and requires little or no medicine. A few days in bed, according to the severity of the case, with low diet, a gentle aperient, and diluents, the feet in hot water, being all that is required. If the catarrhal symptoms are severe, treatment similar to what is recommended for catarrh or cold may be had recourse to.
To the weakly and the aged, influenza is, on the other hand, a comparatively fatal disease, and from the almost universal nature of its attack, carries off more, perhaps, of these classes, than many more apparently severe and more dreaded disoiders. The attack of influenza in the description of persons above mentioned, should be the signal for medical attendance. Lowering means especially, must not be resorted to; confinement to bed, and the use of diaphoretic remedies, as recommended under articles Cold and Catarrh, will be required; broth, strong or weak, must be allowed, according to circumstances, if the strength is deficient, wine may be requisite, and stimulant expectorant medicines, especially in the a^ed, if the expectoration is abundant, viscid, and difficult to be got up. In such cases, the following will be found useful: Take of carbonate of ammonia thirty to forty grains ; tincture of squill one drachm; wine of ipecacuanha forty drops ; water or camphor julep, sufficient to make an eight-ounce mixture, of which two table-spoonfuls, or one-eighth, may be given every few hours. If the cough is very irritating and troublesome, two drachms of paregoric may be added to the above, but the opium rather tends to check the free expectoration, which is so desirable. Demulcent drinks, such as barley-water, should not be neglected, and a mustard-plaster, or blister, to the chest will do good. In severe forms of the disease, with difficult breathing, if the strength is much reduced and the appetite bad, two doses of decoction of bark may be given during the day.
Persons who generally suffer from delicacy of chest, should beware of allowing the effects of influenza to hang about them; the debility and cough are very apt, if predisposition exists, to lay the foundation of consumption. The strong and healthy may trust to the domestic management of influenza, the weak and aged ought to have proper medical advice, if it is within reach.
The history of the various epidemics of influenza which have visited Europe, and, indeed, the world, at intervals, is a subject of much interest. It has been remarked, that the invasion of the epidemic has been preceded by dense, dark, and in some places it is said, offensive fogs.
During the last epidemic of influenza, it was remarked that the barometer was much and unusually affected.
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I've tried to find a listing of the influenza outbreaks in the 19th century but haven't yet found one. I've found various places dealt with this disease a number of times and that it was a common problem during the 19th century.