There is no clear evidence as to where the Spanish Flu pandemic started but, uncharacteristically for flu, it attacked the young and able. Arguments have been made for a Chinese origin which was somehow transmitted to Boston in the USA and from there on to Brest in France. Austria and Kansas have also been postulated to be the ground zero.
The Kansas claim centres on the first recorded case being logged at Fort Riley in Kansas where poultry and pigs were being bred. Within five weeks over 1,100 people had been infected and 46 died.
No sample of the influenza A type H1N1 sub-type virus was isolated and kept so we still do not understand why its impact was so deadly. (Note: Influenza A H5N1-type virus is the avian virus that hit the world in 2003/4 and the USA in 2009.)
Wherever its origin, the Spanish Flu epidemic started in January 1918 and lasted well into 1920. It did not reach Spain until quite late in 1918. It hit swine as much as it did humans. It is estimated that some 500 million humans were infected – that’s 27% of the then world population.
It is variously estimated that between 50 million and 130 million died – between 2.5% and 5% of the world population. This was more deaths in one year than the Black Death had caused in a century.
Some 25 million died in the first twenty-five weeks:
- 17 million succumbed in India
- in today’s Indonesia 1.5m died
- 600,000 died in the USA with Native American Indians particularly badly affected
- 400,000 died in France
- 400,000 in Japan
- 250,000 in Britain
- The ‘flu even reached the Arctic.
Today’s Western Samoa appears to have been worst hit with 30% of men, 22% of women and 10% of children killed by the outbreak.
Sixteen US cities recorded more deaths from the ‘flu than New York lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack.
There were two distinct waves of the pandemic. The first was similar to the normal ‘flu and this outbreak recorded a 0.1% mortality, mostly in the old and young. But the second wave represented 10% of those infected, with half of the deaths aged between 15 and 44 years old. 99% of the total number were under 65 years old.
While WWI did not cause the ‘flu, its massive movements of people helped to spread it widely. Modern transportation took people further and faster. It is assumed that the ‘flu moved to Spain and Portugal as migrant harvest workers travelled by train back to their homelands.
Jacinta and Francisco Marto (two young children who had reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary at Fátima, Portugal) were 1918 victims of the Spanish Flu. More here…
The Spanish Flu killed more people than died in World War 1 (50 million versus 20 million). Of the US soldiers killed in 1918 more than half (57,000) died from the flu rather than from enemy action. At the time some commentators assumed these deaths were due to a biological attack by the Germans. One historian suggested that central Europe was in fact hit badly before it reached the trenches and affected the allied troops – this may have helped bring the war to an end.
Why Spanish Flu? – though the early outbreaks were noted in America and other European countries, fears of the impact on morale during World War I meant that the news was suppressed. Spain’s neutrality in that war and its lack of censorship led to the perception that the country was hardest hit – this was how the term Spanish Flu was adopted. Spain lost some 260,000 to the flu.