I. The origin, spread and character of Spanish Flu

As far as can be determined, no credible chain of causation points to a Ground Zero of the Spanish flu, the virus now known as Influenza A (H1N1). The theories reviewed below are just that — based on speculation, even if tricked out as fact.
 
The scenario presented in a report published in 2012, “Relationship between ‘purulent bronchitis’ in military populations in Europe prior to 1918 and the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic,” credibly joins several links in a possible chain without, however, claiming discovery of the origin of the virus. The authors point to articles in The Lancet in 1917 and 1919 by British surgeons, practitioners with many autopsy and microscopy reports in their dossiers, who affirmed that the pandemic influenza of 1918-19 was the same disease as the “purulent bronchitis” that developed in 1916-17 against a background of endemic influenza in the British Expeditionary Force. The researchers of 2012 speculated that British and French army advisors to the American Expeditionary Force brought the disease to the United States in the winter of 1917-18.
 
Foreign and American officers, Camp Funston, Kansas, 1918. National Archives of the U.S.
 
The first known American outbreak, at Camp Funston, Kansas, began on March 11, 1918, and it was followed, less than a week later, by the appearance of the disease at Haskell Institute, in Lawrence, 160 kilometres/100 miles east of the army cantonment.
 
Relationship between ‘purulent bronchitis’ in military populations in Europe prior to 1918 and the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic, by  G. Dennis Shanks, Alison MacKenzie, Michael Waller and John F. Brundage. Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, 6:4, July 2012, pp. 235-39, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
 
 
It’s possible the virus’s true origin was China, and the Chinese Labour Corps may have imported it to Europe, as argued by Mark Osborne Humphries in 2013. 
 
Paths of Infection: The First World War and the Origins of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, by Mark Osborne Humphries. War in History, 21:1 (2013), pp. 55-81.
 
Or it may have spread overland from China via Russia and Germany to the Western Front.
 
The American origin theory was advanced as early as 1919 by U.S. Army Surgeon General Rupert Blue. The Haskell County origin narrative has found wide acceptance since it was proposed in 2004, see the following.
 
Influenza ‘Just Growed.’ Surgeon General Blue suggests the epidemic may not have been imported, New York Tribune, February 18, 1919, p. 10, via newspapers.com.
 
Published March 26, 2018. Latest update August 23, 2020.
 

A. On an American Origin

i. The Haskell County origin story and the other “Haskell” in Kansas.

The notice of epidemic deadly influenza on April 5, 1918 emanated from Haskell Institute and not from Haskell County. The proof is in the nearly identical wording of the April 5, 1918 notice in Public Health Reports and the report of Charles E. Banks, Senior Surgeon, U.S. Public Health Service, on the Haskell Institute outbreak, dated March 30 and published in the April 12 Indian Leader, the weekly newsletter of the institute.

Courtesy HathiTrust Digital Library

ii. The March 1918 influenza epidemic at Haskell Institute, Kansas.

The importance of Kansas and the Great Plains in the history of the 1918 pandemic can be reaffirmed by reference to the obituaries published in The Indian Leader. Their significance can scarcely be overstated. They put a human face on the horror of the influenza outbreak, possibly for the first time. And, in reports of the Camp Funston and Haskell Institute outbreaks, we glimpse, possibly for the first time in its history, the killer complex of virus and bacteria at work.

Haskell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas, circa 1920s. Courtesy Amazonas.com.

iii. How did the Camp Funston Patient Zero story get started?

Albert Gitchell had no inkling, I am sure, that he was Patient Zero. Anyway, he was not Patient Zero. Because Patient Zero was a construction. And because Albert just wasn’t Patient Zero. The Opie medical commission the army sent to Camp Funston in July 1918 reported that the same disease had been endemic at the camp since it opened the previous September.

B. On Asian Origins

iv. Is William Head linked to the place of origin of Spanish Flu?

The idea that the Spanish Flu originated in China has been around since 1918, and a connection to the quarantine station at William Head, near Victoria, on Vancouver Island, has recently come under scrutiny by historians.

Published March 26, 2020; latest revision March 31, 2020.

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