Worrisome influenza pandemics of the 20th Century included the Spanish Flu (1918), the Asian Flu (1957), and the Hong Kong Flu (1968). There was also an anticipated pandemic that never really reached that status, the Swine Flu.
Of these, the Spanish Influenza Pandemic was in a ballpark by itself. It is estimated the Spanish Flu sent half-a-billion people to bed and killed perhaps half-a-million of them. Burials in mass graves were part of the times.
To many of us, the names of these viral illnesses seem to suggest their point of origin, the place of the first occurrence of illness. However, this is not the case for the Spanish Flu. So where did it first appear?
Earliest Appearance of the Spanish Flu
The Time – March 1918; the setting – Fort Riley1, Kansas, U.S.A. Approximately 500 men were taken ill at Fort Riley. This first outbreak appeared to have been nothing special, so afterward many of these soldiers were sent to Europe (World War 1).
Viruses mutate, it’s their nature. Later cases were much more severe, eventually leading to the horrendous death toll that still imparts fear on contemplation of what may come, such as the current outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus.
However, the question remains: how did the Spanish Flu virus come about? How did it come to be?
Developed for Germ Warfare?
Humans have polarized over the years. There have always been proponents and skeptics on a given topic. However, due to the increasing tendency to lie and deceive, the number of skeptics have increased, some to the point of espousing conspiracy.
An online dictionary defines conspiracy as: the action of plotting or conspiring, whether by an individual or a group. In fact, the very existence of the word conspiracy establishes conspiring does, on occasion, occur. However, some seem to see conspiracy in everything they consider.
Noticing the early cases at a military base, some have concluded the Spanish Flu represents the unintended escape of a man-developed “germ” intended for use in “the war effort”. And clearly, the believed point-of-origin does bring to mind the possibility. But does this concept of conspiracy represent the truth?
Hindsight is Better Than Foresight
It is highly unlikely there is a “germ of truth” to the conspiracy theory. Scientists have examined earlier virus outbreaks, considering them from the viewpoint of demographics. Who contracted the illness, what age group(s) suffered the highest mortality rate. The results suggest the following theory, which appeals to common sense, if you think about it…
Surprisingly, the elderly were not those hardest hit by the Spanish Flu. It seems previous flu viruses suffered by these ones built up a degree of immunity in them, not built up by those of relatively tender years. What makes this seem all the more logical is that serious flu outbreaks did not occur on a yearly basis in the 1800s, just as they have not, since the flu of 1918.
Clarifying Concluding Remarks
So we’re back to the origin of the virus. Where did it come from? It appears to be from Haskell County, Kansas, perhaps, considering the nature of the virus, from swine or birds. An excellent, detailed discussion can be found in this 2004 Journal of Translational Medicine article, by John M. Barry.
The following History Channel video is well-worth watching, not only for its informational content, but for its considerable imagery.
1 The video refers to Camp Funston, which was part of the aforementioned Fort Riley.
Note: You might also enjoy The 1793 Terror: The Yellow Fever Epidemic
- NCBI: Influenza Pandemics of the 20th Century, Edwin D. Kilbourne
- NCBI: 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics, Taubenberger & Morens
- Kansas Historical Society: Kansapedia: Flu Epidemic of 1918
- National Geographic.com: Mystery of 1918 Flu That Killed 50 Million Solved?