The Great Flu Pandemic of 1917

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Von Schadewald
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The Great Flu Pandemic of 1917

Post by Von Schadewald » 16 Mar 2005 18:29

The Great Flu Pandemic broke out in October 1918. The British called it "Flanders Grippe" and it was rumoured to originate from the miasms of the corpses in the Flanders battlefields.

It sickened 100 million and killed 21 million and brought the world economy to a near halt for four months.

WI it had broken out in 1917? I think it could have resulted in such a humanitarian disaster, with soldiers physically unable to fight, that it would have resulted in a truce, a cease fire or even peace. And no Hitler or WWII.

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Andy H
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Post by Andy H » 16 Mar 2005 20:32

And no Hitler or WWII


That's problomatical

Andy H

Jon G.
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Post by Jon G. » 16 Mar 2005 20:37

If you look to earlier examples from history, I think it would have mattered little if a major flu epidemic broke out during WWI rather than immediately after it.

The 100 Years War between France and England happened pretty precisely during the most disease-ridden century in recorded European history - the war broke out on the heels of the first onslaught of the Black Death, and the plague kept coming back for the next good 100 years. It usually had the effect of slowing down the war, at times altogether stopping it, but when the plague had resided a bit (it usually climaxed during late spring/early summer), warfare would resume as soon as both sides were able.

Disease would have greater opportunity to spread in the age of industrialized warfare, and effects might be more widespread, but then the means of fighting the flu would also be better. Assuming that the flu hit equally hard on both sides, overall effect would have been small. Possibly slowing down the war, but not likely to alter the outcome in any way, and certainly not reason enough to bring about an armistice.

Incidentally, pandemics and wars go hand in hand down through history. Disease spreads more easily and more widely under war conditions.

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Post by Von Schadewald » 16 Mar 2005 21:02

Most victims were between 15 & 40 and died as if poleaxed.

20,000 of the British fleet were sick. Regiments in all countries were decimated. Potato, rice, coffee & rubber were not harvested that year. Train services were suspended, frontiers closed. "The world felt like it was dying" (Richard Collier).

Together with the Plague of Justinian & the Black Death it ranked as one of the 3 most destructive disease outbreaks humanity has known. Little impress was left on popular memory however because its shock was too sudden, its duration too quick, its extent too vast for the disaster to be fully appreciated. If it had struck during the 1918 Michael, 1917 Arras, Passchendaele or 1916 Somme offensives, they would have had to have been called off.

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Post by Jon G. » 17 Mar 2005 01:07

Both the plague and the flu have somewhat longer incubation periods than poleaxes. That's part reason why they spread. War itself is another strong factor working for pandemics. If the great flu epidemic had hit the world at a different time than right after the largest conflict so far known to man, its effects might well also have been correspondingly less devastating.

War and disease are brothers in arms. Disease wrecked the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862. The British army suffered far more medical casualties in the Boer War than they did from enemy action. The Black Death ran rampant during much of the 100 Years War. In all cases, disease did not change the outcome of said conflicts, at the most pandemics would slow down hostilities.

Statistics is a marvellous thing. The great flu of 1918-1919 is probably the first world-wide pandemic that we have reliable statistics for - compared to the estimated death toll of the Black Death, for example, it was still just a serious epidemic.

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*JUST* an epidemic!!!

Post by Alexander39 » 08 May 2005 15:42

What is still hunting scietist today is the fact that the flu had an inversed U in it's death statistic which is unusual to say the least!!, And if it had hit in early 17' instead of late 18' it is not inconcivable that US would have stayed out off the war for another year at least.
And the numbers of deaths those not take into account the millions more that died in China or india/Africa, serious researchers put the numbers at around 40 million deaths in less than a year!!
The industrial produktion dropped more than 40% in the inflictet countries when it was at it's highest (Incl US).
US lost over 200000 dead in one month alone (October 18') Philidelphia as the hardest hit major US city had more than 2000 died from the flu pr WEEK in a three week period, (2716 from october 12-19). and they had to leave corpses in street literaly since their was not enough transports to drive them away!!
Various companies and varehouses lent their cool houses and trucks to keep the corpses cool and remove the remains from the street, prisonners was given reduced sentences if they volunteered to corps removal duty!

So please don't say it would not influenced the War.

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Post by Karri » 08 May 2005 16:19

If both sides lose equal numbers to the disease then it won't really effect the war. However, had it hit in 1917 I think it would have taken a heavier toll on Germans than British/French. Germany already had malnutrition and lack of supplies because of the blockade.

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Post by Jon G. » 08 May 2005 16:42

I am sure you can think of other reasons for a 40% drop in industrial production right after a world wide war than a flu pandemic. Statistics for the flu epidemic are problematic because it happened precisely at the time it did - just in the wake of the greatest conflict ever known to man.

It is tempting to nominate the Great Flu of 1918-1919 as particularly devastating precisely because it is so well-documented. For epidemics earlier in recorded history the only source available is often in the horror category like the ones you mention with corpses piling up so fast that the city morgue did not have time to collect them all. It's only a few years ago that a midwestern heat wave forced Chicago authorities to use meat industry cold storage facilites to store the dead. They still talk about the 2003 heat wave in France - but it hardly qualifies as the end of civilization as we know it.

It is worth noting that US population growth was not affected in the slightest by the flu pandemic. The only year with a negative population growth is in fact 1918 ( numbers computed as of July 1st each year), and that is no doubt due to war temporarily stopping most if not all immigration.

The 1920 US death rate was 13,2 dead per 1000/year; giving an estimated 'normal' death toll of 1,37 million/year if we take the 1919 population of 104 million, which is close enough for our purposes. 200,000 dead in one month would in fact be less than expected, particularly if we factor in seasonal variation. Even 200,000 dead additional to expected numbers of deaths would 'just' be serious - definitely enough to warrant calling the flu a pandemic, but clearly not enough to alter the course of history.

Alexander39
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But you are missing the point!

Post by Alexander39 » 08 May 2005 18:28

What made this Epidemic so special were the FACT that it was the most ablebodied part of the population (16-40) that was hit the hardest, if you were over the age of 50' in the states when the flu hit you, you would have a almost 5 times as large chance of surviving as your son of 21!. THIS is what makes the Spanish flu so special and devastating, it was mainly the most ablebodied part of the population that went to the grave, And by the way WW1 stopped at 11/11 kl.11.00 1918 6 weeks after the flu had topped in the states. the drop in production were not becourse of victory fever!!.

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Post by Jon G. » 08 May 2005 19:23

But that's the problem, the war and the flu can't be seperated from one another, neither for death toll nor for impact on industrial production output. An estimated 675,000 Americans died from the flu, and 550,000 were judged as 'excess deaths'. 43,000 of these were armed forces servicemen. It's mobilization and all the associated travel that gives the 1918-1919 flu a young demographic cross-section. Characteristically, the first recorded outbreak in the US happened in a recruit army camp.

A similar situation could be seen in 1862, when Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was hit by serious flu outbreaks. That did not stop Lee from fighting no less than three major campaigns that year.

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Post by Von Schadewald » 08 May 2005 20:33

An article on the quite severe effects of the flu on Australia and her troops
http://www.iig.com.au/rwearmouth/Killer%20Flu.htm

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Re: The Great Flu Pandemic of 1917

Post by Von Schadewald » 17 Mar 2020 00:58

In light of the current epidemic, one wonders how the Nazis would have handled a virus doing their genocidal/omnicidal work for them if the Great Flu had taken place in Europe in 1943?

paulrward
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Re: The Great Flu Pandemic of 1917

Post by paulrward » 17 Mar 2020 05:51

Hello All :

First, let me preface this with a statement: This subject has a very personal impact on me, as my maternal
grandfather contracted the Spanish Influenza right after the Armistice, and barely survived it. It left its mark
on him, however, as he had suffered from TB as a boy, and this led to a recurrence of the disease in the 1920s,
which had a profound effect on his life. His story of how he survived is part of our family lore.

The Spanish Influenza ( H1N1 ) appears to have started in China in early 1917, and then spread across the
world, initially as a relatively innocuous form of the Flu, but then mutating by Mid 1917 into the more serious
form. It is now believed that it was related to the so called ' Russian Flu ' of 1989-1890 that swept the U.S.A.,
with the result that, many individuals who had survived the earlier epidemic were left with a residual resistance
to the 1917-1918 outbreak. This has been used to explain the so called 'double dip' curve of deaths, with
those people over the age of 30 having more resistance than those in the age range of 15-25.

One of the first outbreaks occurred in Kansas in early 1917, and by late 1917, large numbers of U.S. Army camps
were reporting cases. This coincided with the first wave of U.S. troops going over to France, and it now seems
obvious that the U.S. Soldiers brought the virus with them on the troop ships. As it is now known ( from the
Covid-19 virus we are all learning to know and love ) a person can be either exposed but not yet symptomatic,
or completely recovered, and no longer symptomatic, yet still carry the virus, and both types of individuals
can spread the disease.

Some of the first really deadly cases seem to have erupted in Boston. What seems likely is that large numbers
of U.S. doughboys were infected with the milder form of the virus, which, arriving in Europe, mutated into the
more deadly form, which swept the Armies starting in late 1918. The mutant form thus may have started in
the U.S., and then spread to Europe on troop ships. This is in direct contradiction to the belief in the U.S. that
the disease came from Europe.

The Spanish Flu has similar deadly effects to the Covid-19: It can result in a ' Cytokine Storm ' that overwhelms
the immune system and the rest of the organs, leading to death in a matter of hours. In his book,
' At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends ', Dwight Eisenhower relates how, at breakfast, he commented to the doctor
in his camp how healthy one particular soldier he had seen appeared to be. That evening, the doctor came to
him and informed him that the man had just died of the Flu. The effect on Ike can only be imagined.

The effect on the American Expeditionary Force cannot be overemphasized. The virus struck my grandfather's
regiment about a week after the Armistice, and within a few days, was out of control. The men were living in
tents, in their bed rolls, on the ground, and the weather was turning cold, which made matters for the sick even
worse. My grandfather spent a few days caring for others, then he himself fell ill. Fortunately for him, he was
best friends with one of the Company Cooks, who, finding him unconcious, shivering in his bedroll, picked him up,
carried him to the cook tent, and placed him under the cast iron cook stove where it was warm. My grandfather
always attributed his survival to this action by his friend. For three days, he remained unconcious and comatose,
and then on the fourth day began a slow recovery that took several more days. When my grandfather had slightly
recovered, they had a roll call in his Company, and they learned that more than half of the Company had become
sick, and that, of these, nearly one half died, either of the Flu or the subsequent pneumonia.

One in four men in the Company had died in just over a week, without a shot being fired....

His Company, while the Flu was raging in it's ranks, was, in effect, unable to fight, as so many men were down
for sickness they would not have been combat effective as a unit. From this, we can postulate that, had the
Flu struck the AES a year earlier, it might have so ravaged it's ranks in the U.S. that training would have been
impossible, and what is more, France and Britain might have refused to allow large numbers of possibly contagious
troops to cross the Atlantic to infect THEIR armies. Thus, the last ditch spring offensive of 1918 by the Germans
might possibly have ended in a successful drive to Paris, and a totally different outcome to the War to End All War....


Here is some relevant reading for those interested:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/


Respectfully :

Paul R. Ward
Last edited by paulrward on 18 Mar 2020 02:31, edited 1 time in total.

Richard Anderson
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Re: The Great Flu Pandemic of 1917

Post by Richard Anderson » 17 Mar 2020 06:12

Oxford, et al, pretty conclusively have demonstrated the point of origin for the "Spanish Flu" in A Hypothesis: the conjunction of soldiers, gas, pigs, ducks, geese and horses in Northern France during the Great War provided the conditions for the emergence of the “Spanish” influenza pandemic of 1918–1919.
"Is all this pretentious pseudo intellectual citing of sources REALLY necessary? It gets in the way of a good, spirited debate, destroys the cadence." POD, 6 October 2018

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