Dr. Fred and the Spanish Lady: Fighting the Killer Flu


221 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-894384-71-7
DDC 614.5'18'092




Reviewed by Marilyn Mardiros

Marilyn Mardiros is an associate professor of health sciences at the
University of Ottawa.


In 1918, Dr. Frederick Theodore Underhill was appointed Vancouver’s
first full-time medical health officer. That same year, the Spanish flu
(or “Spanish Lady”) pandemic reached British Columbia, killing an
estimated 4,400 people (700 in Vancouver). This book is the story of Dr.
Fred, the many people he influenced, and their combined efforts to
control the epidemic in the province. The story of the disease, which
mostly affected young people (predominately men between the ages of 20
and 45), is one of wartime (World War I soldiers returning home from
Europe brought it with them). Canadian John McCrae, the surgeon-poet who
wrote “In Flanders Fields,” was one of its victims. In its victims,
the virus provoked such a strong immune response that fluid flooded
their lungs.

Trying to contain the spread of the disease, Dr. Fred ordered the
closing of all public gathering places, such as schools, theatres, and
churches. But that measure failed to slow it down. Worse, many of the
doctors, nurses, teachers (serving as volunteer nursing aids) taking
care of the patients themselves got sick and died. The ever-growing
economic cost of fighting the epidemic was mediated by the increased
sale of liquor for medicinal purposes.

Dr. Fred’s leadership provides valuable lessons for today’s public
health professionals, notably in such areas as Avian flu and SARS. This
compelling, well-researched book is recommended for general readers as
well as students of the history of health and illness in Canada.


O'Keefe, Betty, and Ian Macdonald., “Dr. Fred and the Spanish Lady: Fighting the Killer Flu,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14745.