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Influenza Pandemic

The influenza Pandemic appeared in the spring of 1918 as a three-day ailment accompanied by fever. By late summer, it seemed to have passed, but returned in the autumn as in a virulent, deadly form. A third wave occurred in early 1919, but the worldwide pandemic did not end until 1920. Estimates of its final death toll range from 20 to 100 million.

When the flu first struck, some wondered if it were a new, biological weapon. Nations at war feared that sharing information on the flu would provide useful intelligence to the enemy. Neutral Spain was under no such constraint and reported on the influenza, leading to it being called Spanish influenza.

From August 27 to 29, 1918 were admitted to sick bay on a ship in Boston, Massachusetts. At Camp Devens, 35 miles west of Boston, 45,000 men lived in housing intended for 36,000. They began falling sick on September 1. What was thought to be pneumonia or meningitis was recognized as influenza by mid-month. By September 22, just under 20% or the camp's men were in sick report and deaths averaged 100 per day.

Concentrations of troops in camps, bases, troopships, cities and trenches all helped spread the flu. On September 7, 300 sailors from Boston arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. An epidemic was on its way to becoming a pandemic.

On October 4, more than 100 men died at Camp Grant near Rockford, Illinois. At Camp Custer outside Battle Creek, Michigan, 2,800 troops report ill in a single day.

In Paris, 1,800 died in the third week of October. Burials were held as late as midnight.

The pandemic was caused by an H1N1 virus.