It seems that every few years the world holds its breath hoping not to catch the flu even if it isn’t spreading among humans. The latest strain of flu has only struck 108 people, but it has killed 22 of them and has spread beyond the borders of China.
Flu is part of life, though, so what do people fear?
They worry that history will repeat itself.
In 1918, the world was at war and about 50 million people would die as a result of it in the fall. It was not World War I that killed all those people. The death toll from the war was 16 million. However, the Spanish Flu was more than three time deadlier in only a fraction of the time.
It was called Spanish Flu because it apparently first appeared in Spain and was that year’s flu strain. When it first appeared in the U.S. in the spring of 1918, it was highly contagious, but it wasn’t any more deadly than a typical flu strain. The problem with the flu virus is that it mutates and some of those mutations can become deadly.
Remember the SARS scare? That killed a few hundred people out of a worldwide population of 6.9 billion.
Now imagine the terror people felt about a flu that killed 2 to 3 people out of every 100 across the world died. If the Spanish Flu struck today, the lethality would be around 185 million.
The Spanish Flu not only killed more people than World War I, but it killed more people in one year than the Black Plague did in 4 years. It was so devastating that human life span was reduced by 10 years in 1918.
Here’s how Gina Kolata described a Spanish Flu attack in her book, Flu, “The sickness preyed on the young and healthy. One day you are fine, strong, and invulnerable. You might be busy at work in your office. Or maybe you are knitting a scarf for the brave troops fighting the war to end all wars. Or maybe you are a soldier reporting for basic training, your first time away from home and family.
“You might notice a dull headache. Your eyes might start to burn. You start to shiver and you will take to your bed, curling up in a ball. But no amount of blankets can keep you warm. You fall into a restless sleep, dreaming the distorted nightmares of delirium as your fever climbs. And when you drift out of sleep, into a sort of semi-consciousness, your muscles will ache and our head will throb and you will somehow know that, step by step, as your body feebly cries out “no,” you are moving steadily toward death.”
Spanish Flu first appeared in Adams County near the end of September 1918. It almost always it made its first appearance in any community during the last week of September, whether it was here or in Europe where there was fighting. This could indicate that that there wasn’t a flash point location so much as this was a strain of flu that mutated. That is a point that is argued, though. Some have tried to set an origin point. Boston and in Kansas are the most-common locations suggested.
The Gettysburg Compiler reported on Sept. 28 that the flu had broken out in Camp Colt, Gettysburg’s army training camp. At this point, they believed that it had come from soldiers who had been exposed to it in Camp Devens in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which is one of the places where the flu was believed to have started.
To combat Spanish Flu at Camp Colt, 500 soldiers were getting daily throat sprays, which were believed enough to stop the flu. The newspaper reported, “The epidemic seems to be well in hand with treatment before the severe stages.” However, within this first week of breaking out, 125 men had been hospitalized and five had died. These were the men who had come from Camp Devens.
The problem wasn’t well in hand, either. By the time the Spanish Flu was finished with Adams County, so many people had died that it would be nearly 40 years before the county saw a death toll that high again.