The Deadliest Flu in History (2)
In 1918, the Flu began at Camp Funston, Kansas
Deadliest Flu (2): It all began during the last week of February 1918, which is considered the height of the flu season when more incidents of the flu tend to enter the system.
Most people know not all flu seasons are alike; this year, 2013, it began one month earlier with reports of deaths from the flu prevalent among younger children and early teens. What the scientists believed would follow them for the rest of their life.
In 1918, the flu began at Camp Funston, Kansas, where local newspapers reported a “severe influenza.” Scientists believed the first signs of the flu happened around the last part of February through March’s first week. Hospitals in Haskell County, Kansas, reported an increase in admissions due to the flu in the later part of the first week in March, which coincides with the incubation period.
The news continued reporting this flu as “unusual and causing over 11,000 men from Camp Funston to come down with the same illness. All of this happened within a three-week period. The men were suffering a light case of the flu.
In a short two-week span, the flu had spread as reports surfaced concerning Georgia’s camps, including Camp Forest and Camp Green leaf. No sooner was this reported news spread that 24 camps from the 36 largest camps in the United States battled the same virus. What this meant, thirty of our largest cities had been exposed to the flu.
As mentioned in Part One, the scientists at first were not concerned with the flu. Their battle was combating the measles outbreak, which included death to many by linking it to pneumonia.
The scientists believed they were right when the troops from all of the U.S. camps recovered. Another report came in April, American Troops located in France were suffering from the same flu-like virus. Once again, those troops recovered, suffering a mild case of the flu.
The flu mutates, changes, and spreads. Not every case of the flu within the same season is alike. What we see somewhere in the world is labeled, and by the time it reaches the East Coast of America, it could be a totally different virus.
By the middle of April 1918, the British were reporting cases of the flu, and by May, the British First Army reported 36,473 cases of the flu, and tens of thousands were not hospitalized yet suffered a lighter case of the flu. In June, those who were infected carried the virus from the British Third Army to England, scientists believe. Once more, the troops recovered. The same thing happened in Germany as reports surfaced concerning many troops sick with a virus.
Although it spread from one country to the next, the virus had no name. Then it hit Spain. It would be in Spain, it received a name, and scientists followed the “Spanish Flu.” Newspapers began to get involved, even outspoken since Spain was a neutral country during war-time. As more news came from Spain concerning the flu, the world would learn King Alphonse XIII became ill with the virus.
Germany believed they had few cases, but now the flu was given the title epidemic and became a serious problem as it traveled from person to person. It was reported to surface in Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Sweden from July and August.
A transport boat docked in Bombay at the end of May. Reports read, “Boat carried a virus which spread to all of those men on board and those who worked the docks, many losing their life.” This made scientists think the Spanish Flu was now taking on different characteristics. People in this area who traveled by rail car were said to carry the virus into different areas such as Calcutta, Madras, and Rangoon. At the same time, another boat docked, and like a hive of bees, the virus swarmed around Shanghai, onto New Zealand and Australia. Newspapers reported by September of 1918, thirty percent of Sydney was infected by the virus.
The flu was spreading like wildfire, although it did not kill as it did in Haskell. Now the scientists were still calling the flu mild since, more than likely, those sick would live.
A characteristic became known to scientists when a report by the Army in Europe noted, “fulminating pneumonia with wet hemorrhagic lungs.” The scientists understood the message. The virus was an infection spreading within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, infecting the lungs and patients who choked on their own blood – these were the most serious cases and died in the short span of time mentioned above.
This virus was no longer a mild virus ignored by the famous scientist Osvald Avery in America. The first scientist who observed this disease happened in Chicago when a doctor who cared for a man only for a day lost his life with identical symptoms as those in Europe. The doctor sent a sample to Dr. Ludwig Hektoen, who headed the John McCormick Memorial Institute for Infectious Diseases. The doctor in Chicago was upset, not knowing what he found.
At this time, when Chicago found a case like the one in Europe, the State of Kentucky reported deaths from the flu, but not to the young or those in their twenties or thirties.
Two scientists who were working on war-related medical conditions wanted to learn more about this flu in Europe. Pearce and another scientist discussed the situation and their need to investigate several occasions to the Civilian Surgeon General Rupert Blue, head of United States Public Health; he had no intention to pursue the matter. This was when Pearce contacted Paul Lewis in Pa.
The virus was still lurking, but like the groundhog, it disappeared for a rest, yet creating a new coat. As the groundhog and his environment, like the virus, it would appear again. The environment has a great deal to do with a virus and change from the original outbreak. Another thing, if a pathogen becomes lethal, it kills itself because it simply runs out of hosts. Influenza is the same. Scientists knew when a virus travels from animal to people. It could have been the reason it became mild and then changed again. Now the flu was becoming stronger instead of weakening.
It is hard to believe that the United States Public Services head never restricted a boat or ship when it reported an illness regarding the passengers or crew. When a boat docked, orders were sent for ambulances, and doctors were placed on alert. They would seal off a section of a ward for the ill, but even with the top doctors in Pa., the crew and others had died quickly.
Interesting to learn was a report from a young medical student which read, “It seemed like pneumonia, but the sick all were bleeding from their nose,” and at the end, it stated, “opinion, they have influenza.”
It was time to rest as the flu began to disappear, that is, until July 8th, 1918, when 287 people died in London, and that same week, 126 died in Birmingham, Alabama.
Another report surfaced. A known doctor following autopsies noted, “Lung lesions different in character.” Finally, the Department of Public Health thought it was important to tell citizens there was a flu epidemic spreading rapidly and warned of fatal cases.
Another report in August of 1918 said the US and Europe had had outbreaks of severity during the summer months. Remember, 1918 was a time when immigrants were crossing the ocean to be part of what they referred to, “The New World.”
As suspected, a ship docked in NYC, a ship whose crew had to bury four of its’ crew members at sea, and a ship that carried 200 passengers filled hospitals in NYC. Again, the NYC Health Department and the Port Health Office claimed there was no danger, “The disease does not attack well-nourished people. It was only a short time earlier that a report came from the NYC schools that twenty percent of the children were malnourished. It surprised people no action was taken in NYC to prevent the spread of the virus.
Another steamboat landed with people from the countries of Norway and Sweden, and sick people were aboard. Those who were sick ended up at St. Vincent Hospital, the date August of 1918. The boats arrived on the 14th and 15th carrying the virus. The scientists would learn these people on the boats would carry a mild case of the flu.
The New York Times reported on August 19th, 1918, “A considerable number of American Negros, who have gone to France on horse transports, have contracted Spanish influenza onshore and died in French hospitals of “pneumonia.”
Now, the lethal form of the flu found a hiding place in humans. At the same time on three continents, in Brest, Freeport, Sierra Leone, and Boston. No longer was Boston the bean town; it soon would be called the killing town.
At the Commonwealth Pier in Boston at receiving ships, which was actually a place where overcrowded barracks were packed with Navy men, statistics said seven thousand who ate, drank, and slept in close quarters, were there, at the wrong place at the wrong time. By August 27th, two sailors were ill. Then on August 29th, fifty-eight, all were in a hospital. It was Boston where human subjects, navy personnel, would be given vaccines to kill a virus, and it was the first experiment in the world to see if a virus caused this disease.
The next step on this journey would be only thirty-five miles northwest of Boston at Camp Devens.
Other parts in this series:
The Deadliest Flu in History (1)
The Deadliest Flu in History (2)
The Deadliest Flu in History (3)
The Deadliest Flu in History (4)
The Deadliest Flu in History (5)
The Deadliest Flu in History (6)