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Spanish Flu, 1918

Created on: 2021-07-07

Since the beginning of the COVID situation, comparisons have been made with prior pandemics, including the Spanish influenza of 1918. The fatality of Spanish flu far outstripped that of COVID-19, nonetheless, there are lessons that can be learned from the Spanish flu.

Firstly, what happened in 1918? The pandemic was named Spanish flu, and even sometimes darkly romanticised as "The Spanish Lady." The true origin of the flu is uncertain, though it is now agreed that it did not originate in Spain. Much of Europe and North America was involved in World War I, for which reason their news media censored reports of epidemics. Since Spain was outside of the war, it reported freely, and became known as the de facto source of the flu. Current theories, however, point to either the UK, France, China, or the USA as the source.

The first known cases occurred in the USA, in Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, in early March. Over the following two months, over 200,000 military men were shipped to Europe to fight in WWI. It is believed they carried the disease with them, and brought it to Europe. For these reasons, it's been argued that it should no longer be called Spanish flu, but instead Fort Riley flu, or similar. I will continue with the name "Spanish flu" purely as a convention.

What is notable is that while the first wave of the flu was bad, the second wave landed like a hammer, not only in the trenches, but in the army camps back in the USA, and in civilian populations also.

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