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Spanish Influenza and its Effect on World War One
The influenza of 1918, known to many as the “Spanish flu” or “Spanish Influenza”, was one of the most devastating plagues in the world. Within two years it infected one fifth of the world as well as one quarter of the United States. Many would think that since the pandemic began in 1918 near the end of the war it wouldn’t effect it but in fact the war was impacted, as was the way the influenza was spread.
Though the origins of the influenza are not truly known and there are many theories to how it began. Influenza referred to as the “Spanish flu” because the most serious attacks began Spain. Historian Alfred W. Crosby suggested that the virus began in Fort Riley, Kansas, while Political scientist Andrew Price-Smith suggested that the illness originated in Australia. One of the odd things about the influenza was that it affected people around the ages of 20-40 unlike most varieties of flu which affect children and the elderly. Some of the worst symptoms of the influenza included rib-cracking coughing, intense pain, and a discoloration of the skin due to lack of oxygen. Victims would start turning blue, sometimes the blue color became so pronounced
that it was difficult to determine a patient's original skin color. (jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2005/great_influenza.html).
Temperatures rose to 104-106 and pneumonia attacked the lungs and filled them with fluid (history.navy.mil/library/online/influenza phil 1918.htm0). There was no denying death with influenza happened very quickly.
The first wave of Influenza began in the March 1918. The virus spread unevenly throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia (cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol12no01/05-0979.htm). Though illness rates were high, death rates were not much higher than normal. By July 1918 the Influenza appeared to be dying out.
The second wave of the influenza began in August 1918 when it hit three port cities: Boston, United States; Brest, France; and Freetown, Sierra Leone (history1900s.about.com/od/1910s/p/spanishflu.htm). This is believed to lead the second wave of influenza to be so much more deadly. The second round of the virus was much more sudden and severe. Many victims died just a day or two after they realized they were sick, sometimes even within hours of the presence of the first symptom. It because of this influenza was also known as “the three day flu”. People around the world worried about receiving the virus, some cities ordered people to wear masks, others prohibited spitting and coughing in public was prohibited and schools and theaters were closed (history1900s.about.com/od/1910s/p/spanishflu.htm). Due to the dear of the virus people tried their own home remedies to stop the virus but none of them seemed to work as the death toll climbed higher.
The third and final wave of the flu began November 11th 1918, the day of the armistice. People celebrated the end of the war effectively spreading the virus even more. This final wave did not cause as much attention as the second because it was deadlier than the first wave but it didn’t reach the amount of death nor the amount of fear that the second wave did. When the influenza
finally ended is still argued today. Some believe it ended in the spring of 1919 others say it remained until 1920.
The flu affected the war in many ways. United Sates camps were reporting deaths every hour by October 1918 due to the virus. The medical service was unprepared service the new forces due to the dreadful virus. In a way the war also affected the spread of the virus in the United States. The American troops were being sent to areas where the flu was already running rampant which also contributed to the amount of deaths on the western front. The United States was affected in ways apart from the war. Approximately 675,000 Americans died of Spanish influenza during the pandemic and the average life span for people living in the United States was decreased by 10 years. (haverford.edu/biology/edwards/disease/viral_essays/redicanvirus.htm)
The pandemic out break began in the spring of 1918 and is thought to have lasted until December of 1920. At the end of the pandemic the Spanish Influenza was responsible for the death of approximately 50 million people (about three percent of the world population) and the infection of 500 million people (about 28 percent. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic). This is what made it the most devastating pandemic in the world.
Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: the Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.
history.navy.mil/library/online/influenza phil 1918.htm