The Great Sickness

By the year 1918, America was ready for peace. The Great War in Europe was finally coming to a close, and more than a hundred thousand American lives had already been claimed in trench warfare there. However, something much deadlier than war was about to afflict the American people – epidemic. In the winter of 1918, an unusually large number of people began dying from influenza. It started in a small town in Kansas, where over five hundred people had suddenly fallen ill. The disease then spread rapidly all over the world, from North America to Europe and even to Far East Asia. It had a large mortality rate, killing about 15% of its victims and over 50 million worldwide.Unlike previous diseases, the flu affected the young and healthy just as much as it did the weak and elderly. manciniAt the peak of the influenza pandemic, about a quarter of Americans were diagnosed with the sickness. The American Red Cross issued face masks for people to wear in an attempt to prevent infection. Ordinances were put in place to prohibit the gathering of many people in one place. In an effort to raise morale during the final months of war, the government limited public press concerning the spread of the flu, as did the leaders of many other countries involved in the war. Since Spain was a neutral nation and had no such censorships, the disease became known as the Spanish influenza. By the pandemic’s end in 1920, almost 675,000 Americans had died from influenza – almost six times as many killed during combat in the war.2 Though the United States succeeded in ending a war that was killing its people, the main source of death during the Great War era ended up being a factor beyond its control. Posted by Laura Mancini

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