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100 Years On – First Flu Victims

On March 11, 1918, Private Albert Gitchell, a cook at Fort Riley, Kansas, was diagnosed with what later became known as the “Spanish Flu“, the first of hundreds to fall ill at the isolated post, and the first of millions to suffer in the United States.  In both training camps on the plains of North America and the trenches of Flanders and France, cramped quarters, bad sanitation, and poor nutrition conspired to create a perfect environment for a pandemic.  Some believe that the flu may have even helped to tip World War I toward the Allies in its last months, as German and Austrian soldiers and civilians were hit with the epidemic earlier than their opponents.

Whether the disease, which would impact billions of people worldwide as sick soldiers returned home from World War I, originated in the United States or in Europe is a matter of controversy.   What is not controversial is the number of people that the flu sickened and killed.  Scientists estimate that between 50 and 100 million people worldwide perished due to influenza or secondary infections like pneumonia in 1918 and 1919.

The first wave, which hit in the spring of 1918, was mild compared to what would come later.  How different societies reacted to having thousands of people, especially the young and strong, die, is an interesting study for those who realize that such things will happen again.

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