"INFLUENZA IN SYDNEY FOUR CASES IDENTIFIED. STATE AUTHORITIES TAKE DRASTIC PRECAUTIONS. Pneumonic Influenza has appeared in Sydney. Four cases have been definitely identified, and between 17 and 19 suspicious cases have been reported. They are all in the Randwick Military Hospital. The whole of the State's anti-epidemic organisation has been brought into operation. The Federal authorities have declared the State an infected area." (SMH 28 January 1919)
News quickly circulated throughout the Lithgow district that this epidemic which rapidly spread throughout Europe and the USA in 1918 and had recently reached New Zealand and South Africa, had claimed its first casualties in Sydney.
Because of the remoteness from Europe, Australia had time to make necessary precautions, including vaccination. In 1918 the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories developed it first experimental vaccine in anticipation of the pneumonic influenza reaching Australia.
In the six months to March 1919 three million free doses were produced for Australian troops and civilians. The vaccine addressed the more serious secondary bacterial infections that were likely to cause death.
A depot for inoculation had opened at the Town Hall Lithgow on January 9, 1919. Drs Hutley, Malcolm and Chapple and three nurses vaccinated 24 children 40 women and 109 men on the first day. The numbers increased dramatically in the following days.
Memories of the strain of influenza that devastated the Lithgow community in the four months to December 31, 1918 were fresh in people's memories. The Council's Health Officer reported that of the 71 deaths recorded in Lithgow during that time, 30 deaths were attributed to pneumonic influenza.
One of those who died in 1918 was Benjamin McKay, recently appointed Manager of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. Following the funeral at St Mary's Presbyterian Church, practically every man employed at the factory was assembled and, led by the Town Band, the funeral procession proceeded down Main Street to Eskbank Station, where the coffin was entrained to Sydney, en route to his home town of Maryborough via Brisbane.
Was this disease the same strain of influenza or a more virulent strain? According to newspaper reports even the medical experts from Sydney were uncertain.
The Government medical officer for Lithgow, Dr Hutley, attended a reported case of pneumonic influenza in a cottage in High Street, Vale of Clwydd on February 27, 1919. After making a diagnosis of the case he was of the opinion that the case was not one of the disease.
On March 30 the Council's Infectious Diseases Register noted four diagnosed cases of pneumonic influenza in one family in Saywell Street, Vale of Clwydd.
The Grafton newspaper Daily Examiner reported on April 22,1919 that there were 30 deaths in Lithgow in eight days.
The next six months would be a harrowing time or the community as well as the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly, many succumbing to the effects of the disease.
The Lithgow and District Family History Society has been researching the stories of the progress of the pneumonic influenza in Lithgow and surrounding districts, the families who were affected and how the community rallied to assist those affected by the disease and its after effects.
The Society has been invited to share the results of this research in an exhibition at Lithgow Library and Learning Centre during the Australian Heritage Festival 2019 which is to be held between April 18 and May 19, 2019.
The theme of the 2019 festival is 'Connecting People, Places and Past'.