ATLANTA - Debbie Crane learned the unpleasant fate of her family during the 1918 flu pandemic through the eyes of her grandmother at the grave site of her forbearers.
Now the story will be known to millions thanks to a new Web-based compendium of the 1918 and 1957 flu outbreaks compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in which Crane recalls the treacherous mid-December her grandmother endured as a young girl in rural North Carolina.
"They ached. Their throats hurt," Crane wrote. "They coughed and coughed ... my grandmother described one terrible night when the whole family sounded as if they were drowning."
Found in "Pandemic Influenza Storybook: Personal Recollections from Survivors, Families and Friends," Crane's account and more than 50 other submissions offer intimate, personal reflections of extreme suffering in the name of remembrance and what the world could face in future years, officials say. The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 50 million people worldwide including an estimated 675,000 people in the United States. The 1957 influenza pandemic caused at least 70,000 U.S. deaths and as many as two million deaths worldwide.
"Complacency is enemy number one when it comes to preparing for another influenza pandemic," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said. "These stories, told so eloquently by survivors, family members and friends from past pandemics, serve as a sobering reminder of the devastating impact that influenza can have and reading them is a must for anyone involved in public health preparedness."
The idea for such a storybook emerged during crisis and emergency risk communication has conducted with health professionals over the past several years. The online storybook contains narratives from survivors, families and friends who lived through the 1918 and 1957 pandemics. The agency welcomes new submissions and plans to update the book each quarter. Narratives from the 1968 pandemic are also welcome.
"It's an excellent resource, not only for public health professionals, but for people of all ages," said Sharon Hoskins, a public affairs officer who coordinated the project for the CDC. "It's probably the closest to experiencing the real thing that many of us can imagine."
The storybook can be found at www.pandemicflu.gov/storybook/index.html.