Thanks to Lisa Schnirring for tweeting the link to this MinnPost.com article: 'Downton Abbey' gets the flu — but does it get it right? Excerpt:
Finally, last Sunday, the flu pandemic made its appearance on the north Yorkshire country estate of the Earl and Countess of Grantham. But it did so in a sanitized way, it seemed to me. Wouldn’t more members of the household have fallen ill and died? Where was the fear (and face masks)? And wasn’t 1919 a little bit late for the flu to hit the Grantham estate, especially since Downton had been housing convalescing soldiers? Soldiers were, after all, one of the main conveyers of the disease.
To get some answers, I spoke with Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and Richard Danila, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. Danila is one of several co-authors of a fascinating 2007 article in the journal Public Health Reports on how the 1918-1919 pandemic affected the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Neither Osterholm nor Danila was familiar with the “flu” episode of “Downton Abbey,” so I had to describe to them how the pandemic was depicted on the show.
That depiction, it turns out, may have been slightly more accurate than I thought. But it still had some problems.
The question of timing
To begin with, it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to have the flu sweep through Downton in April 1919. The pandemic came in three waves, explained Osterholm. The first wave arrived in the spring of 1918; the second (and most deadly), in the fall of 1918; and the third, in the early spring of 1919.
I suspect that the writers of “Downton Abbey” brought the illness to the Grantham household during the third wave because having it hit while the war was still going on would have made the plot line too complicated (and it’s pretty convoluted as it is).
But if a steady stream of soldiers had been coming in and out of Downton during 1918, the flu probably would have descended upon the household earlier, Osterholm said.
“The highest morbidity and mortality in the military [from the flu] was in the fall of 1918,” he pointed out.
Danila agreed. “I would imagine that if they had troops coming back [to the house] to convalesce during the war, the flu would have swept through them,” he said.