We may be drinking at home to ease the mental and emotional fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in 1918, during the deadliest pandemic in modern history, people with the Spanish flu were prescribed whiskey for medical benefits. Doctors, frontline workers and flu patients drank the water of life to prevent, and cure, the deadly Spanish flu pandemic. Nearly a year after the first wave of the Spanish flu hit India, an article in The Times of India in April 1919 reported that scientists recommended whiskey for flu patients “not only as a stimulant but a sedative too. It induces a sense of well-being and freedom from anxiety, which is certainly a help in resisting infection.”
To cure Spanish flu whiskey was used as a medicine
When the 1918 pandemic broke out, many countries were focused on World War First. Spain, being a neutral country during the war, did not have the same media censorship on revealing the toll of the pandemic on its manpower; even the King acknowledged being infected. Though it did not originate in Spain, the early reportage led to the name Spanish flu. In Ireland, which lost nearly as many to the pandemic as to the war, whiskey was used to cure patients and also as a preventative by doctors and workers who had to move bodies.
US Navy also used whiskey to cure Spanish flu in Chicago
US Navy nurse Josie Mabel Brown recalled serving in 1918 at the Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago: “There were so many patients that we did not have time to treat them. We did not take temperatures; we did not even have time to take blood pressure. We would give them a little hot whiskey toddy; that was about all we had time to do.” The Spanish flu claimed 3-5% of the world’s population, estimated between 50-100 million lives, between 1918 and 1920 – by when people in the world over had developed immunity to the H1N1 virus.
Research today observes that knocking back a glass or two per day won’t hamper the health but, as this Insider piece notes, binge-drinking and excessive consumption of alcohol weakens the immune system; mixing alcohol and pain killers can cause gastrointestinal distress like ulcers and bleeding, and drinks can hamper recovery from an infection or illness.