Influenza Outbreak Effect on World War I

Many historians believe the poor living conditions on the Western Front attributed to the spreading of the Spanish flu and influenza epidemic.

Often soldiers lived in cramped, dirty and damp conditions leading to illness. Malnourishment also resulted in weakened immune systems.

As troops began to return home, they often brought the virus with them, which spread across cities, towns and villages.

Bases and Camps throughout the United States became greatly impacted and at the height of the virus, doctors were overwhelmed with the onslaught of patients. Hospitals were so overwhelmed, they stopped accepting cases leaving even more sick in the barracks.  When doctors, nurses and cafeteria workers were affected and became sick themselves, the situation only grew more dire.

Boston’s Camp Devens had 1,543 soldiers ill at the peak of the outbreak in late September and early October.

The U.S. military is said to have taken over half of the physicians under the age of 45 for their troops, especially the best doctors.  This led to a shortage of medical personnel in many towns.  

Military training camps overflowed with the sick and the Army cancelled its nationwide draft call.

On September 27, 1918 the Newberry Herald Times stated 794 cases at Camp {now Fort} Jackson.

While we may never know the exact impact, the Spanish flu had on World War I, we do know the following:

  1. It was widespread throughout the fighting areas
  2. It spread throughout the world
  3. It weakened soldiers
  4. It left the military with limited resources and personnel

The third wave of influenza struck in October 1918. This wave struck throughout the world.

On November 11, 1918 the Armistice was signed ending the war. President Woodrow Wilson is said to have been ill and collapsed, although historians debate if from the influenza pandemic or a stroke or a combination of both.  It has been stated he had an aide who also became ill with the flu at this time.

So, it seems the influenza outbreak had a large impact on ending the first world war. A war which was said at the time to end all wars.

So, how many casualties were there?

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