The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

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The 1918 influenza pandemic circled the globe in three waves: the first in the spring of 1918, the second in the autumn, and the third in the winter of 1918–19, extending in some places into 1920. In the first wave it was the armies that suffered most severely. In the autumn and winter waves, soldiers and civilians alike died from secondary pneumonia infections which caused people to turn blue from lack of oxygen and cough up purulent, bloody sputum. . Those studying the social and military history of the Great War have largely ignored the effects of disease on the battlefield or the ways in which mobilizing massive international armies may have facilitated the development of the pandemic. This paper re-examines the 1918 flu’s origins and its…show more content…
It criss-crossed the planet in a matter of months, following the sinews of war, moving from China, to North America, to Europe, to Africa, and then back again, killing millions in the process. The flu was thus a global disaster precipitated and best understood as a consequence of the transnational and novel nature of the First World War. In the view of Oxford and his colleagues the peculiar conditions of trench warfare allowed these local outbreaks to emerge as a new pandemic virus, incubated by a lethal combination of gas, filth, overcrowding, and human cohabitation with livestock, specifically pigs and fowl. Oxford and colleagues assume that the pandemic’s explosion in the summer and autumn of 1918 can be explained by the massive movements of demobilized armies. They write: ‘demobilization in the autumn of 1918 would have provided an ideal set of circumstances for intimate person-to-person spread and wide dispersion as young soldiers returned home by sea and rail to countries around the entire…show more content…
In his book The Great Influenza and in other articles, Barry builds on Jordan’s findings to argue that flu overwhelmed a local doctor in Haskell County, Loring Miner, forcing him to sleep in his buggy between night calls until he eventually became so perplexed by the disease that he filed a report with the United States Public Health Service in late March.32 But this note comprises only single sentence in the 5 April 1918 issue of Public Health Reports. It reads: ‘On March 30, 1918, the occurrence of 18 cases of influenza of severe type, from which 3 deaths resulted, was reported at Haskell, Kansas.’33 Using the local gossip columns of the Santa Fe Monitor, Barry was able to further elaborate on the significance of this otherwise obscure reference to flu activity, suggesting that these cases had actually occurred in February but were only reported at the end of March before finally being published in April.34 He argues that from this localized outbreak the flu spread to nearby Camp Funston, Kansas, at the beginning of March, then to other army camps across the United States, and later around the world after American troops arrived in Europe.35 Edwin Oakes Jordan identified only one other possible site for the origins of the 1918 flu: China. South East Asia had been linked to the origins of previous pandemics – at least in the minds of their chroniclers, and we now know that new

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