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One 1918 Spanish Flu Treatment That Really Worked

Hydrotherapy fomentationsIn 1918 the Spanish influenza was one of the deadliest pandemics this country has ever faced. Yet, it wasn't without hope. Every other method seemed to avail little, but a simple treatment using water was found to be very successful in treating the deadly flu. It was called the Fomentation Treatment.

This article and video clip are an excerpt from the manual and DVD included in our Hydrotherapy DVD/Book Combo, The Lost Art of Natural Remedies.  This set covers 13  treatments that were used in decades past to treat many common ailments successfully, from the comfort of home.


Excerpt From Hydrotherapy DVD

 A fomentation is the application of moist heat to a body part. The fomentation is usually applied by means of a hot, damp cloth. This effective treatment can be used to treat a wide variety of diseases. Fomentations make it possible to bring relief to areas of the body which may be difficult to treat by immersing them in water. Fomentations of various sizes can be used to warm an area preparatory to another treatment, or as the hot application for a contrast treatment followed by a cold application. Fomentations can be heated in a variety of ways, depending upon the heat source available in a home.

The fomentation treatment described below has the patient lying supine (face up) with a fomentation to the spine and with the feet in a hot foot bath. The contrast fomentation is applied to the chest. Cold may be omitted when treating pleurisy, kidney stones, and painful menstruation.


Why it works:

The application of heat to the skin draws the blood to the surface, and away from the internal organs. Heat relaxes the muscles and decreases pain and inflammation. Increased blood flow to the area stimulates white blood cell reproduction and action. The sweating caused by the heat increases the body’s ability to eliminate body wastes and toxins in the system. The treatment calms and soothes the nerves.


What the treatment has been used for:

  • Chest congestion in colds or flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and pleurisy
  • Heal and improve the function of internal organs
  • Neuralgia (painful nerves)
  • Painful muscles and joints due to back injuries, arthritis
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nervousness (use prolonged, mild heat to the spine)
  • Detoxify liver or kidneys
  • Warm a body part in preparation for another treatment

Not for use with:

Do not apply fomentations if there is bleeding or hemorrhage.


Things to be careful of:

  • Be careful not to burn a patient who:
  • is paralyzed.
  • has edema (swollen tissues due to fluid retention).
  • is diabetic.
  • has neuropathy (loss of sensation).
  • has loss of feeling (numbness) and decreased blood flow to the legs and feet.
  • Body areas where the bone lies close to the skin surface may need extra padding to prevent burning.
  • Avoid chilling—change fomentations quickly; keep the body covered.
  • Be careful not to spread infection. Clean equipment thoroughly.



  • Large pot of boiling water, OR canning kettle with canning jar rack on the bottom, OR Microwave
  • Large foot bucket (if a foot bath is included in the treatment)
  • Basin of cold water for cold compress to the head
  • Ice
  • Tea kettle or pitcher of hot water
  • Pitcher for ice water
  • Large piece of plastic (to keep bed dry)
  • Pillow
  • Blankets—1 large or 2 small
  • Sheets—1 large or 2 small
  • Large, dry towels—4
  • 3-4 extra small towels or washcloths
  • 1 small hand towel
  • Washcloths (for cooling compress to the head)—2
  • Fomentations (may use large towels)—4 or 5 depending number of changes
  • Fomentation covers (a piece of thick blanket or a large, dry towel)—3
  • Glass of water and drinking straw

Preparation – 3 different methods: Boiling Water, Steaming, or Microwave

NOTE:  An electric heating pad does not give the same results as moist heat.  Choose one of the following three methods for heating the fomentations:


Boiling Water Method

  1. Fill a large, covered pot or canning kettle with water. Heat the water until it boils.
  2. Fold a towel lengthwise twice. Hold the towel at both ends and twist it tightly.
  3. Immerse twisted towel in boiling water until soaked through. Keep ends of towel dry.
  4. Lift the hot towel out of the water and stretch to squeeze out excess water.
  5. Quickly drop one end of towel to untwist it, then fold towel widthwise twice.
  6. Place folded towel on a fomentation cover.
  7. Wrap the fomentation cover around the hot towel.
  8. Roll fomentation pack to conserve heat and carry to patient.

Steaming Method

  1. Place metal rack in large covered pot or canning kettle.
  2. Add hot water to just below the metal rack.
  3. Fold each of 3 large towels widthwise twice.
  4. Wet each folded towel, roll it up, and squeeze out excess water.
  5. Place rolled, wet towels on rack above the boiling water. Cover and heat approximately 30 minutes.
  6. Remove one towel with tongs or protective gloves.
  7. Quickly unroll heated towel on the center of a fomentation cover.
  8. Wrap the fomentation cover around the hot towel.
  9. Roll to conserve heat and carry it to the patient.

Microwave Method

  1. Fold 3 large towels widthwise twice.
  2. Wet each folded towel, roll it up, and squeeze out excess water.
  3. Place the rolled, wet towels into plastic bags. Place in the microwave and heat the towels for approximately 10 minutes on high.
  4. Remove the first towel from the microwave and quickly unroll it onto the center of a fomentation cover. It should be steaming hot!
  5. Wrap the fomentation cover around the hot towel.
  6. Roll up the fomentation (to conserve heat), and carry it to the patient.

How the treatment can be done:

Preparation for the treatment

  1. Prepare room (warm and free of cold drafts).
  2. Assemble equipment.
  3. Cover bed with plastic.
  4. Place sheet over plastic covering.
  5. Explain treatment procedure to patient.
  6. Assist patient (as needed) in preparing for treatment. Place hot fomentation lengthwise on the bed so that it will run the length of patient’s spine. Cover the fomentation with a dry towel and assist the patient to lie down on it.  Check to be sure fomentation pack is positioned so that it covers the spine.
  7. Spread a dry towel on the spot where the foot-bath tub will be sitting.
  8. Place foot tub on towel and position it where patient can easily set his feet inside. 
  9. Fill foot tub with enough warm water to completely cover the ankles, and make sure the water is not too hot by testing it with the elbow.
  10. Ask patient to check water temperature with toes before immersing feet.
  11. Completely cover patient and foot bath with a sheet and a blanket. Leave only head and neck exposed.


  1. Always remember that prayer invites the Great Physician’s presence.
  2. Cover fomentation site with a folded, dry towel.
  3. Place damp (but not dripping) fomentation over the dry towel.
  4. Cover fomentation with another dry towel.
  5. Lift fomentation away from skin wherever patient feels uncomfortable heat.  Insert a dry towel or smaller cloth between the fomentation and the skin.
  6. Leave fomentation in place for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove fomentation.
  8. Briskly rub heated skin area with a cold washcloth for approximately one minute.
  9. Thoroughly dry the treated area.
  10. Remember to keep patient completely covered at all times during the treatment.
  11. Repeat steps 2 through 9 for each fomentation. A treatment consists of 3 to 5 fomentation applications.
  12. When patient begins to sweat, apply cool washcloths to the head and neck.
  13. Encourage patient to drink water frequently throughout the treatment to replace fluid lost from sweating.
  14. Keep feet warm by periodically adding hot water to the foot bath.
  15. Place your hand between the poured water and feet to avoid burning.

Completion of the treatment

  1. Immediately after removing the last fomentation, briskly rub the treated area with a cold washcloth and then dry it.
  2. Lift feet out of the hot water, point the toes upward and quickly pour cold water over feet.
  3. Remove foot bath and place feet on dry towel.
  4. Thoroughly dry feet and toes.
  5. Put warm socks or slippers on the feet to avoid chilling.
  6. Use Cold Mitten Friction (page 54) up legs, arms, and abdomen.
  7. Assist patient to sit up.
  8. Apply Cold Mitten Friction to the back.
  9. Remove the used fomentation pack.
  10. Replace damp clothing with clean, dry garments.
  11. Have patient rest in bed for approximately one hour.
  12. Lukewarm bath or shower may follow rest period if further sweating occurs during rest.


Have you ever used fomentations before?


  • Guest
    sarah Friday, 24 August 2012

    Just wondering if a hot water bottle could be used in place of the fomentation?

  • Lisa
    Lisa Friday, 24 August 2012

    The hot water bottle is a great solution for a prolonged heat application, but for a shorter 3-5 minute application it just isn't as effective as a fomentation pad or rolled moist towels. If that was the only option that I had to work with, I'd use it, but towels are going to give you a much more effective treatment. Often I get asked if a person could use a thermafore, but I've tried using those as well, and you still don't get as effective a treatment as the moist heat from the fomentation pad or wet towels. That has been my experience.

  • Elizabeth Morris
    Elizabeth Morris Friday, 24 August 2012

    I have learned a little about hydrotherapy through the years, but I have to say, this video demo is the simplest, nicest demonstration I have ever seen. Reading about hydrotherapy often leaves too many questions when it comes to actual practice, but watching this video made me realize I have everything I need to do this at home. I am definitely buying this!

  • Guest
    Shirley Heisey Friday, 24 August 2012

    I used to work at Wildwood in their Lifestyle Program. I gave many hydro treatments.
    This was a excellent review for me. She gave a very nice demonstration. I treasure this information. I also received the benefit of such treatments. They are very effective.

  • Guest
    Shirley Heisey Friday, 24 August 2012

    To be effective, the MOIST heat, alternating with ice cold in 3-5 changes as described is effective. The hot water bottle does not cover the chest adequately. In a situation where you have no other options, a wet washcloth under the HOT water bottle may give limited success. There is a large Thermophore that provides moist heat, which could alternate with the cold. They are expensive and require electricity. It is possible to find old woolen blankets in second-hand stores, sometimes. It is wise to prepare materials and equipment ahead, to have on hand for such unexpected emergencies.

  • Guest
    Shirley Heisey Friday, 24 August 2012

    Additionally, old towels dampened and steamed can work, but they do not hold the heat as well as wool. To be effective, you need the under-layer of heat to the back, which helps the patient not to chill too much. So you need supplies for top and bottom, but the top only is changed out for alternate cold and then new heat packs.

  • Guest
    Barbara McCasland Friday, 12 October 2012

    That was an excellent presentation. I have been giving fomentation treatments for several years and I have learned something from this demonstration. Most patients, once they get hot, like a cold wash cloth or hand towel to their head continually. Excellent.
    Barbara McCasland Friday Oct. 12

  • Jeremy
    Jeremy Tuesday, 29 January 2013

    Lisa, what is the length and width of the fomentation pad? I am trying to figure our how big of a pot I need for several of these to fit into. Style of pot or brand would be helpful as well.

  • Lisa
    Lisa Tuesday, 29 January 2013

    Hi Jeremy, the fomentation pad is roughly 10" by 28" and rolled up fits nicely in my 'All American Pressure Canner' that fits 7 quart jars. You don't have to use that pot, any large pot will do as long as you can get them into a pot steaming. I believe the pot we used in the video footage was a slightly larger pressure canner than mine. But as I said, any large pot will do. To order those fomentation pads, you can visit this site: www.HydrotherapyProducts.com

    Hope this helps! ~Lisa

  • Guest
    Paul Monday, 16 December 2013

    May I suggest using a CamelBack or similar water bladder hung on the wall near the patient? After the patient's first drink through the tube, gravity will do the rest. That may help simplify the hydration process and allow the patient to drink at will.

  • Guest
    Barbara McCasland Thursday, 09 January 2014

    I have learned that Elder Berry is great for the Flue, along with Vitamin C and other herbs. Elderberry kept me from having to go to bed this month. I took large amounts of water and Elderberry every 3 to 4 hours and large doses of vitamin c when I could get it. Also, Airborne was available so I took it too. Not sure if Airborne is the best but I believe it did help some.

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