The”Spanish Flu” of 1918 was NOT from Spain!

 

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The first case of Spanish flue actually traces a long way from Sprain, and before the first cases were even reported in Spain. It all started at Camp Funston in Kansas City, where US troops are waiting for deployment into Europe. (Quinn 16) Although there was flu present, it was no more lethal than anything recorded in the previous years. It wasn’t till the summer of 1918 when the influenza strain mutated into what would be well known for the millions of death to come. (Byerly 85) According to the historical reconstructions used to this day, the first case of the second wave was not recorded in Spain and dates to August 22, 1918, in the French port of Brest. (Quinn 18) The port is one of the largest entry points that accounts for half of the US troops that had joined the France and Britain in fighting Germany in 1917.

The outbreak in Camp Funston itself was because of the small, but constant traffic of soldiers from Haskel County and movement to the camp in general. On March 4, 1918 was the first report when an Army cook became ill. Within three weeks after the initial contact, 1,000 more soldiers were admitted into the camp hospital and thousands more were reporting symptoms. (Barry 96) According to the camp hospitals records, 237 men of those hospitalized developed pneumonia from influenza, but only 38 died from it. Although the death count was low, it should have been enough to invoke some concern. But in just weeks after the outbreak, Funston continued to ship out a constant supply of soldiers to other military bases and eventually into Europe.

By April of 1918, the infection had already spread to bases in France, England, Germany and later would reach Spain. It was around the spring of 1918, when the disease picked up its name and became known as the “Spanish Influenza.” (Barry 98)

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Spain remained a neutral country throughout World War I, which would mean that the Spanish government felt no need set up press and rebut the flu being started in Spain. All while everyone else was printing newspapers filled with reports to warn about the disease. On May 28, 1918, the Spanish King Alphonse XIII and several of his cabinet members came under with the flu. (Barry 171) This case kept being printed as daily news and was quickly picked up by newspapers throughout Europe and the United States. Because of this, the Spanish got blamed for the infection and spreading it through Europe. The newspaper articles about the matter was on a daily bases and here is an example of a Voyant word search off an random Washington Times article. Meanwhile, back in the United States, President Woodrow Wilson and his military advisors did not take the matter into serious consideration of the outbreak as seen on this Gapminder with France, UK, Spain and the US. (Quinn 124) The spreading of the flu might have been more tamed if Wilson had taken the advice of prominent doctors and stopped the rapid deployment of troops and quarantined them before entering Europe. (Barry 172)

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The war conditions didn’t help either and became the perfect environment for spreading the virus. Because Europe had been at war for four years already, the general health has been weakened by poor nutrition and housing. (Quinn 126) Along with the overcrowded soldier barracks, this was the perfect condition for mass infection to both the United States and European soldiers. The military camps were dangerously overcrowded on both sides and consequently, soldier’s heath care was not put into high priority during these times. There are camps where soldiers would have to wait days before there was room at the camp hospitals as one soldier wrote in his diary. Hospitals were usually the last sector to be constructed and were only adequate to hold a few soldiers at a time. The Army was well aware of the problems with its soldier’s heath, but army officials were more worried about it could lead to “make their men too soft.” (Quinn 127) Although all the conditions were met for creating the perfect environment for infections, the first and milder wave would mostly die out by the beginning of summer in 1918. (Byerly 90)

 

Citations:

Quinn, Tim. “The World’s Worst Pandemic: The ‘Spanish Flu of 1918” in Flu: a Social History of Influenza.London: New Holland Publishers, 2008.

Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919.” Public Health Reports 125.Suppl 3 (2010): 82–91. Print. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/pdf/phr125s30082.pdf

“Diary entries : September 17, 1918; September 18, 1918; September 19, 1918; September 25, 1918.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed December 2, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-f288-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 06 Oct. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1918-10-06/ed-1/seq-22/&gt;

https://overhereproject.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/the-spanish-influenza-and-world-war-i-unexpected-partners/

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