A look back on how the U.S. responded to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918

A look back on how the U.S. responded to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918

This is a brief view of how American newspapers reported the events of the 1918 Spanish Flu. This may remind you of how American cities and states are responding today during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The Spanish Flu did not originate in Spain, though news coverage of it did. During World War I, Spain was a neutral country with a free media that covered the outbreak from the start, first reporting on it in Madrid in late May of 1918. Allied countries and the Central Powers had wartime censors who covered up news of the flu to keep morale high. Because Spanish news sources were the only ones reporting on the flu, many believed it originated there.

Scientists still do not know for sure where the Spanish Flu originated, though theories point to France, China, Britain, or the United States, where the first known case was reported at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 11, 1918.

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.

The first wave of the 1918 pandemic occurred in the spring and was generally mild.

However, a second, highly contagious wave of influenza appeared with a vengeance in the fall of that same year. Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate.

Despite the fact that the 1918 flu wasn’t isolated to one place, it became known around the world as the Spanish flu, as Spain was hit hard by the disease and was not subject to the wartime news blackouts that affected other European countries.

One unusual aspect of the 1918 flu was that it struck down many previously healthy, young people. This was a group normally resistant to this type of infectious illness, including a number of World War I servicemen.

More U.S. soldiers died from the 1918 flu than were killed in battle during the war. Forty percent of the U.S. Navy was hit with the flu, while 36 percent of the Army became ill, and troops moving around the world in crowded ships and trains helped to spread the killer virus. – History

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