All About History

Charting the outbreak

Despite what its name suggests, the plague didn’t begin in Spain and it spread far beyond Europe


1. march 1918: riley, kansas, us

The first confirmed case of Spanish flu was reported when chef Private Albert Mitchell was absent from work due to illness. A local doctor reported the incident to the Public Health Service but it seemingly wasn’t investigat­ed. Over 500 soldiers were hospitalis­ed within a week and a month later, the virus had run its course.

2. april 1918: Étaples, france

Unknown to the public at the time, the virus had been circulatin­g the military base of Étaples for several months before breaking out. Pathologis­ts from Aldershot, UK, eventually published studies in the medical journal The Lancet that marked Étaples as the source of the outbreak but the paper was still subject to wartime censorship.

3. Winter 1917: Shaanxi province, China

Some historians believe that when approximat­ely 96,000 Chinese labourers were brought to Europe to work behind British and French lines, many carried a virus with them. Chinese health officials have since identified this virus as identical to Spanish flu.

4. august 1918: brest, france

Brest was one of the largest ports of disembarka­tion for American troops, where 700,000 US soldiers arrived in Europe — providing the virus with the perfect opportunit­y to cross the Atlantic.

11. Winter 1920: mexico City, mexico

The last handful of Spanish flu cases in Mexico City were reported towards the end of 1920 and the disease seems to have disappeare­d shortly afterwards.

5. august 1918: freetown, Sierra leone

Arriving on the British warship HMS Mantua, the virus quickly hit about twothirds of the city’s population, who contracted influenza over the following months. The disease would quickly spread through Africa.

6. august 1918: boston, massachuse­tts

Boston almost immediatel­y shut schools and theatres after sick civilians overwhelme­d the local hospitals. Public gatherings were discourage­d in an attempt to stem the contagion.

10. early 1920: Serbia

The Spanish flu continued into early 1920, but this was the tail end of the disease. A total of eight people died in Kać, Budisava and Gospodinci, which appear to be the last cases in Serbia.

9. february 1919: paris, france

Over 2,700 people died of influenza and pneumonia in Paris following the Versailles peace conference, opened in the city on January 1919 in order to sign a treaty to end World War I.

8. november 1918: Spain

Spanish flu plagued Spain with the same ruthlessne­ss as elsewhere. Many Spaniards believed it returned with a vengeance thanks to migrant workers from Portugal transmitti­ng the disease.

7. September 1918: bombay, india

When influenza arrived in modern day Mumbai with the returning soldiers, it swept north and east across the nation. India was the most affected country with the virus killing up to 22.5 million people in just a matter of months.

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