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Homer Moody has been reported quite sick Mrs J. Cox is very weak yet Ralph Mc- Connell has been quite sick this week Mertin, the young son of Ernest Elliot, is sick with pneumonia, Most everybody over the country is having lagrippe or pneumonia. Several Haskell men who had been exposed to influenza went to Camp Funston, in central Kansas.

Days later, on March 4, the first soldier known to have influenza reported ill. The huge Army base was training men for combat in World War I, and within two weeks 1, soldiers were admitted to the hospital, with thousands more sick in barracks. Thirty-eight died. Then, infected soldiers likely carried influenza from Funston to other Army camps in the States—24 of 36 large camps had outbreaks—sickening tens of thousands, before carrying the disease overseas.

Meanwhile, the disease spread into U. The influenza virus mutates rapidly, changing enough that the human immune system has difficulty recognizing and attacking it even from one season to the next. A pandemic occurs when an entirely new and virulent influenza virus, which the immune system has not previously seen, enters the population and spreads worldwide. Ordinary seasonal influenza viruses normally bind only to cells in the upper respiratory tract—the nose and throat—which is why they transmit easily. The pandemic virus infected cells in the upper respiratory tract, transmitting easily, but also deep in the lungs, damaging tissue and often leading to viral as well as bacterial pneumonias.

Although some researchers argue that the pandemic began elsewhere, in France in or China and Vietnam in , many other studies indicate a U.

Wherever it began, the pandemic lasted just 15 months but was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing between 50 million and million people worldwide, according to the most widely cited analysis. An exact global number is unlikely ever to be determined, given the lack of suitable records in much of the world at that time.

The impact of the pandemic on the United States is sobering to contemplate: Some , Americans died. Today we worry about Ebola or Zika or MERS or other exotic pathogens, not a disease often confused with the common cold. This is a mistake. We are arguably as vulnerable—or more vulnerable—to another pandemic as we were in Earlier this year, upon leaving his post as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden was asked what scared him the most, what kept him up at night. Initially the pandemic set off few alarms, chiefly because in most places it rarely killed, despite the enormous numbers of people infected.

Doctors in the British Grand Fleet, for example, admitted 10, sailors to sick bay in May and June, but only 4 died. Yet there were warnings, ominous ones. Though few died in the spring, those who did were often healthy young adults—people whom influenza rarely kills.

Here and there, local outbreaks were not so mild. At one French Army post of 1, soldiers, were hospitalized and 49 died—5 percent of that population of young men, dead. And some deaths in the first wave were overlooked because they were misdiagnosed, often as meningitis. In fact, it was more like a great tsunami that initially pulls water away from the shore—only to return in a towering, overwhelming surge.

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In August, the affliction resurfaced in Switzerland in a form so virulent that a U. The hospital at Camp Devens, an Army training base 35 miles from Boston that teemed with 45, soldiers, could accommodate 1, patients. On September 1, it held On September 7, a soldier sent to the hospital delirious and screaming when touched was diagnosed with meningitis. The next day a dozen more men from his company were diagnosed with meningitis. But as more men fell ill, physicians changed the diagnosis to influenza. Now, with hospital facilities overwhelmed, with doctors and nurses sick, with too few cafeteria workers to feed patients and staff, the hospital ceased accepting patients, no matter how ill, leaving thousands more sick and dying in barracks.

It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes It is horrible We have been averaging about deaths per day For several days there were no coffins and the bodies piled up something fierce Before it ended, influenza was everywhere, from ice-bound Alaska to steaming Africa.

And this time it was lethal. The killing created its own horrors. Governments aggravated them, partly because of the war.

How the Horrific Flu Spread Across America | History | Smithsonian

For instance, the U. What proved even more deadly was the government policy toward the truth. The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false. Against this background, while influenza bled into American life, public health officials, determined to keep morale up, began to lie. Early in September, a Navy ship from Boston carried influenza to Philadelphia, where the disease erupted in the Navy Yard. No fatalities have been recorded.

No concern whatever is felt. The next day two sailors died of influenza. The next day 14 sailors died—and the first civilian. Each day the disease accelerated.

Each day newspapers assured readers that influenza posed no danger. By September 26, influenza had spread across the country, and so many military training camps were beginning to look like Devens that the Army canceled its nationwide draft call. Philadelphia had scheduled a big Liberty Loan parade for September Doctors urged Krusen to cancel it, fearful that hundreds of thousands jamming the route, crushing against each other for a better view, would spread disease.

They convinced reporters to write stories about the danger. But editors refused to run them, and refused to print letters from doctors. The incubation period of influenza is two to three days. In truth, nurses had no impact because none were available: Out of 3, urgent requests for nurses submitted to one dispatcher, only were provided. There was plenty of cause. At its worst, the epidemic in Philadelphia would kill people Priests drove horse-drawn carts down city streets, calling upon residents to bring out their dead; many were buried in mass graves.

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More than 12, Philadelphians died— nearly all of them in six weeks. Across the country, public officials were lying. Over a four-day period in October, the hospital at Camp Pike admitted 8, soldiers. There is only death and destruction. People knew this was not the same old thing, though.

They knew because the numbers were staggering—in San Antonio, 53 percent of the population got sick with influenza. They knew because victims could die within hours of the first symptoms—horrific symptoms, not just aches and cyanosis but also a foamy blood coughed up from the lungs, and bleeding from the nose, ears and even eyes. And people knew because towns and cities ran out of coffins.

How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America

People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown. How long would it last? How many would it kill?


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Who would it kill? With the truth buried, morale collapsed. Society itself began to disintegrate.