Influenza Pandemic of 1919-1920

Sabrina Jehanzeb - 2nd Period

What are the characteristics of the 1919-1920 pandemic flu? Why was it so much more virulent than typical annual strains?

  • The origin of the flu has been debated, some researches say a small town in Kansas. Fort Riley has the best recorded first case. For Riley was a military outpost in Kansas where new soldiers were being trained to be sent in Europe. One day a cook came down with symptoms and was immediately isolated. However after 5 weeks, 1,127 soldiers were affected and 46 of them died.
  • Another theory was from China, the mobilization of 96,000 Chinese laborers to work behind the British and French lines on World War I's Western Front might also be a reason for the flu outbreak.
  • Spain was the first country to be struck by the flu that was not involved in World War 1 and did not censor their health reports. Most people heard about the flu by Spanish reports so the flu was named the Spanish Flu.
  • January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic: H1N1 influenza virus
  • Affected 500 million people across the world
  • 50 to 100 million—three to five percent of the world's population
  • Victims died within hours of having symptoms. Mainly killed healthy young adults unlike normal diseases which target youth or elders
  • To maintain morale and keep panic at bay countries censored early reports of illness
  • Close quarters and massive troop movements of World War 1 increased the spread of influenza
  • The war may also have increased the lethality of the virus because of several mutations
  • Influenza is usually worse during winter time
  • The first wave had symptoms of normal influenza
  • The second wave came in August and it was deadly.
  • However those who recovered from first-wave infections were now immune to the second wave

To what extent was the spread and the effects of the flu pandemic a consequence of the Great War? Is it possible that without the war the disease would have been just as deadly?

  • President Woodrow Wilson suffered from the flu in early 1919. President Wilson was unable to participate in key negations during the conference and this lead to a significantly different outcome from what Wilson originally wanted. Wilson left office in 1921 and died in 1924.
  • Soldiers' immune systems were weakened by malnourishment, along with stress and chemical attacks
  • The most vulnerable people were those like the soldiers in the trenches which were young healthy adults
  • World War I claimed an estimated of 16 million lives and the influenza outbreak took about 50 million lives
  • Influenza and pneumonia killed more American soldiers during the war than did enemy weapons.
  • The war helped the spread and mutation of the virus, without the war the disease would be a normal 3 days flu but the with close contact of soldiers and constant mutations this flu grew into a world wide problem
  • The constant travel of troops allowed the flu to spread quickly as troops traveled to their new location.
  • Kids would skip rope and sing "I had a little bird, Its name was Enza. I opened the window, And in-flu-enza"
  • There was not any antibiotics at the time to combat the disease
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To what extent were the effects of the flu pandemic attributable to other post-war conditions, such as resumption of peacetime economic activity, revolution, famine, social turmoil, and so on?

Economic Activity
  • There was a fall in production overall. The ones who were affected were in their 20-40's and they were the ones working and contributing to the overall growth to the economy. As more and more died production became slim and there wasn't anyone to fill in their shoes. There were many business that became bankrupt. However, it is hard to distinguish if the reason many business went bankrupt was from the efforts towards the war or the flu.
  • After the war many decided that the after math of the war, revolution or any uprising was not worth it. After witnessing millions of deaths and the destruction of so many lives, revolution was not worth it and there could be other ways of achieving equality.
  • Before the war there wasn't penicillin, antibiotics or any medicines that could combat the flu. Many medical facilities separated the sick from the healthy. With many supplies going towards the war effort there were not many supplies for those at home. Famine began to start with the decreasing supplies.
Social turmoil
  • There were not enough coffins for everyone who died from the flu. For a lot of soldiers they were buried in piles. Health departments distributed gauze masks to the public to prevent the spread of the flu. Fines were given to those who ignored flue ordinances. It is oftener compared to the Black Death of the Middle Ages
  • In 2005, researchers at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology announced that they had isolated, decoded, and replicated the entire sequence of the 1918 flu now today known as H1N1.
"The 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man's destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all--infectious disease,"