What caused Flu Epidemic of 1918?

The source of the outbreak is unknown; however, historians and researchers have narrowed it down to three main hypothesis.

  1. Began in Kansas, United States by late 1917 beginning on 14 US Military Camps.  One alert doctor notified the Public Health Service in January 1918, long before the virus became widespread and is the first recorded world of unusual influenza activity reported anywhere in the world.
  2. British Army base in France in late 1917 which spread rapidly in the overcrowded camp and hospital
  3. China records indicate a respiratory illness in late 1917, and a mild flu season in 1918 indicating the Chinese possessed acquired immunity which then mutated and spread throughout Europe and the United States

The disease spread when the infected person sneezed or coughed.  With the close quarters of the troops during World War I, the pandemic was hastened. Modern transportation increased travel throughout the world, more than any time in the past, and the disease migrated across the continents and ocean until the virus effected the entire world.

Usually, influenza is worse in the winter, however the outbreak was widespread in the summer and fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

Initial symptoms of the illness included a sore head and tiredness, followed by a dry, hacking cough; a loss of appetite; stomach problems; and then, on the second day, excessive sweating. Next, the illness could affect the respiratory organs, and pneumonia could develop.  Pneumonia, or other respiratory complications brought about by the flu, were often the main causes of death. 

 Many patients afflicted by the pandemic influenza had cognitive or psychological symptoms.

Doctors were at a loss what to tell patients, some suggested avoiding crowded places, stay indoors, avoid shaking hands and touching communal items such as library books and avoid other people. Others suggested home remedies such as eating cinnamon, drinking wine or drinking beef broth. Mask were handed out and people were encouraged to wear them in public.  Often trains refused to allow people entrance if their face was not covered.

Things weren’t much different then than they are today in the preventative measures.  Both our current president and President Woodrow Wilson made the same call.

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