The headline reads “Influenza Rages in Oklahoma City; Whisky is Needed.”
It was December 1918, and the Oklahoma City Police Department was getting inundated with calls, people requesting whiskey to, allegedly, alleviate their flu-like symptoms.
Between 20 million and 50 million people died during the 1918 flu pandemic, also known as the Spanish flu, including 675,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And in the midst of all the fear from pandemic, people wanted whisky, or whiskey. Why? Because many believe it can help with the flu.
As a family doctor, Dr. Rachel Franklin hears several different types of flu myths. Franklin said most old wives' tales are centered on making a person feel better, rather than shortening the course of an illness.
For example, bourbon was in Franklin's first cough syrup as a child. Even though liquor won't cure an ailment, it can make you feel better, she said.
“The old timey good ol' Southern cough syrup remedies were honey, whiskey and a twist of lemon, the ol' hot toddy,” Franklin said. “The way it works is the honey coats your throat, so your throat feels better, the warmth of the concoction soothes your chest, and alcohol is a respiratory depressant, which means you cough less. It's also why if you drink too much, you pass out, and don't breathe any more.”
Vitamin C and zinc haven't been shown to work as well as once thought, she said.
The herb echinacea has been shown to boost the immune system some. However, it shouldn't be taken for long periods of time, though, because it might overstimulate the immune system.
Franklin said besides getting your flu shot, two of the best ways to keep from getting or spreading the flu is to wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth with your inner elbow when you cough.
A more serious flu myth is that the flu shot can give you the flu. This isn't true, she said.
“One of the real things that can happen when people get a flu shot is that they can get a sore arm and they can get muscle aches, that's part of the body's response to the factors in the flu shot that are ramping up their immune system,” Franklin said.
“It's also true that it takes two weeks for the flu shot to kick in, and if you wait too long, especially during flu season, and you get exposed, it's only seven to 10 days from exposure before you get the symptoms.”