The Spanish Flu, also known as “La Grippe,” got its name when the Surgeon General of 1918 had pamphlets printed and distributed; he was trying to educate the public on preventive measures of the deadly epidemic that had taken the world by storm. Some of the titles on these periodicals were: Spanish Influenza, Three Day Fever, The Flu.
About eighty percent of the population in Spain died as a result of being exposed to the dreaded flu virus that was sweeping across Europe, and throughout the world. Even though Spain remained a neutral country in World War I, the country was devastated by the impact of flu of 1918.
Large companies placed ads in the pamphlets distributed by the Surgeon General. These ads gave practical advice, and outlined precautious measures to prevent the spread of disease. The flu pandemic of 1918 was nick-named the Spanish Flu, but it did not originate there.
At the time, World War I was nearing its conclusion. In the fall of 1918, American soldiers were coming home to America from overseas. Many had been sent to countries throughout the world at the height of the war. If they were contagious with the flu that began in the spring of that year, they brought their germs with them.
In the spring of 1918, American soldiers got sick in an army camp at Fort Riley, Kansas. This was the first wave of the Spanish Flu. Many of the soldiers ended up in the infirmary, and some of them died. However, quite a few of them were shipped overseas to protect U.S. interests in the war. No one realized that their minor sniffles and coughs would be the beginning of a worldwide flu pandemic.
The flu had never been considered very dangerous, even though it was uncomfortable. Many people misunderstood the dangers of complications resulting from the flu. People in 1918 thought the flu was caused by bacteria. They didn’t realize that it was really a virus that could mutate as necessary to survive.
The flu virus of 1918 was strong. This virus infected people in the prime of their lives, as well as the elderly and very young people. It began in the United States, but it spread throughout the world to places like France, England, Germany, China, and even Spain, as soldiers arrived to defend their countries in the war. Civilians were also exposed to the dreaded disease. No one was immune.
Soldiers battling each other in combat exposed other soldiers, thus infecting people from different countries. Some people theorized that Americans were using the flu as chemical warfare. This of course was proven ridiculous, as millions of Americans also died from exposure to the deadly virus.
As the war came to conclusion, soldiers who had survived the dreaded outbreak of the flu of 1918 began returning home. In the fall of 1918, another outbreak of the Spanish Flu entered the United States, as these soldiers carried the germs with them back onto American soil. This was the second wave of the flu. Americans thought that the flu had subsided with summer, since very few people were sick.
The Spanish Flu had mutated overseas. The new strain of virus was even worse than before. When soldiers started returning home from Europe, they brought with them dangerous symptoms. People would turn a bluish brown color because they didn’t have enough oxygen in their systems. They would get temperatures as high as 106 degrees. Their bodies would fill with fluid, as they fought to defend against the virus.
Most people died from complications of the flu. Pneumonia was rampant. Internal organs became inflamed and couldn’t function properly. The brain would fill with fluids and overheat, making patients delirious. Death was excruciating, but quick.
Many things were set in motion when this dreaded enemy, influenza, attacked people from all over the world. Scientists became very interested developing vaccines to combat germs capable of so much destruction. Government authorized research and experimentation in an effort to save lives. New technologies were developed to combat infectious illness.
The world was spared ultimate destruction from the flu pandemic of 1918. Research is still being done today, because scientists want to learn about the viral mutations. They want to know what transpired in the virus that infected and killed so many people.
Precautions are taken, but fear of another dreaded flu pandemic remains. If scientists can unlock the mystery of the Spanish Flu virus, without exposing the germ to unsuspecting hosts, all will be well. Future viruses should be able to be overcome with ease.