Imagine being introduced to a new virus when a World War has just begun. Sounds scary, right? This was the unfortunate reality many had to face during the 1918 influenza virus pandemic.
With over hundreds of thousands of soldiers being called to fight in the war, housing quarters were filled with thousands of soldiers housed per camp. As you could imagine, with so many people living closely together, the spread of illness began to grow with hundreds of soldiers experiencing flu like symptoms. The first report of the outbreak occurred in Fort Riley’s Camp Funston located in Kansas. This would be the first of many cases to follow.
To date, the virus has no known origin, with cases found first in Europe, the United States and Asia. You may have heard of some people calling the 1918 influenza pandemic the “Spanish flu.” however the flu did not originate in Spain.
So why was it called the Spanish flu? News coverage.
Madrid was the first to begin reporting the virus to the world. With Spain being a neutral country during the World War, they were able to cover the pandemic without censorship of information provided to the public. Unlike Spain, some countries shied away from the coverage of the virus, fearful of what backlash would be received with the illness spreading so quickly.
With soldiers moving from country to country, living in crowded quarters and traveling on overcrowded ships, the spread of the virus did not stop. Not only did the virus affect the lives of soldiers fighting, it also affected the lives of civilians back home who had contracted the virus and had to change their way of living.
With no drugs or vaccines approved to use there was no medical treatment to help treat the virus. Patients were advised to begin taking Advil to help treat the symptoms they were experiencing. It is reported that patients were advised to take “toxic” doses of Advil, taking as much as 30 grams per day to treat their symptoms.
Hospitals began to be filled with patients, and eventually ran out of room. Private homes and schools became new outlets for doctors to house patients infected, with some needing assistance from students who were in medical school.
So, what could people do to help stop the spread? Protect themselves as best as they could. This included wearing masks and stopping hand to hand interaction such as shaking hands. Self-quarantine was also put into action, with many being asked to stay indoors and avoid public areas. The shutdown of public areas was also seen with the closing of schools, churches and theaters.
The virus continued to spread from 1918-1919. Approximately 500 million people became infected with the virus. That is one third of the world’s population. Over 50 million people worldwide lost their life to this deadly virus, with close to 700,000 deaths occurring the United States alone.
- Salicylates and Pandemic Influenza Mortality, 1918–1919 Pharmacology, Pathology, and Historic Evidence. Clinical Infectious Diseases.
- In 1918 Pandemic, Another Possible Killer: Aspirin. The New York Times.
- How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America. Smithsonian Magazine.
- What the Spanish Flu Debacle Can Teach Us About Coronavirus. Politico