Was cause of death the flu or tuberculosis?

Linda Harms Okazaki spent years trying to track down the cause of death for her ancestor Hattie Mae Lane. Half her family said she died from the 1918 influenza and half said Hattie died from tuberculosis.

Below is a photo of Hattie on her wedding day. She was 37 years old when she died, the mother of 7 children.

hattie mae lane 1.jpg

Once Linda was finally able to find the death certificate, she found that both sides were right. The cause of death was “Tuberculosis Pilmonosis [sic] following Spanish Influenza about one year ago.”  She died November 11, 1919.

Pilmonisis should be Pulmonosis, meaning tuberculosis in the lungs. This was by far the most common type of tuberculosis.

It is not clear whether Hattie had tuberculosis first. If so, this would have made her more susceptible to the flu virus and it is likely that the impact of the flu hastened her death from tuberculosis.

It is also possible, although less likely, that she developed the flu first. The flu was very good at opening up the lungs to secondary infections. Pneumonia was the most common secondary infection and was often a killer as there were no antibiotics at the time. But the flu could also lead to other secondary infections including tuberculosis.

Story and photo courtesy of Linda Harms Okazaki

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