Spanish Flu and Tuberculosis in Cape Verde

My great-grandparents, Antonio and Rosa, both died within months from each other in 1917-1918. Antonio traveled regularly between Brava and the US between 1896 and 1917. During his last time here in the US, he became very sick and went back to Brava. Within a few months, passed away on June 17,1917. A few months later, Rosa, collapsed while working in her garden leaving behind Maria, 14 , Julio, 10, and Carolina, 6. All their belongings had to be burned and the children were left with nothing in the care of their great-grandmother, Angelica, who was already well into her 80’s.

Many of the Cape Verdeans who were in the US at that time did become sick in the epidemic that killed millions around the world. Brava was not immune to this and hundreds died on the island before 1920 from the illness. The Spanish Influenza or flu was a type of avian or bird flu that spread within two years mostly affecting young adults between 18-30. My great-grandparents were 28 and 38 years old. Older adults and children did not seem as affected as this age group and died at much lesser rates. A study, in 2009, stated that what actually killed these people was tuberculosis in addition to the flu. Most of the people had already been carriers when they got sick. As a result, many of the people of that time who were exposed but never became sick then may have gotten sick later in life as they aged or had some other type of chronic illness.

My great-grandmother always tested positive on her PPD tests (test for tuberculosis) but never got sick with it. As she became older she did always have a chronic cough that had apparently been the result of tuberculosis which until then was dormant. I spent a lot of time with her after graduate school and since then I have always tested positive on my PPD’s.

I have, apparently, been exposed to the same virus that killed my great-grandparents almost 100 years ago. Itbdoesn’t mean that I am sick or will ever have TB BUT definitely gives new meaning to my research into my family tree. Not only can we inherit genes that dictate what color eyes and texture of hair we will have, but also viruses that wiped out nearly 25% of the world’s population at one time! Wow!

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