On the 11th March 1918 the first confirmed case of what was to become known as Spanish Flu was identified at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, a huge military facility in Kansas. Within 18 months the disease had become a pandemic that infected up to a third of the entire world’s population. With between 10-20% of all infected persons dying, modern estimates place the flu as taking anywhere between 20 to 100 million lives.
The exact geographical origin of the disease has never been identified, but the first confirmed case was company cook Private Albert Gitchell in Kansas who reported to the camp’s infirmary when he woke in the morning. By midday 107 soldiers had been admitted with the same symptoms.
The outbreak came while American soldiers were being shipped to Europe to fight in the First World War. The conditions in the trenches of the Western Front accelerated the spread of the virus, and contributed greatly to it becoming a pandemic. Poor hygiene and nutrition provided a fertile breeding ground for the flu, which soon made its way into the civilian populations of Europe as well.
Due to wartime censorship, governments limited reports on the virulence of the flu and played down the death toll. However, newspapers in neutral Spain faced no such limitations, resulting in people believing Spain was suffering disproportionately high cases which led to it gaining the name Spanish Flu.
With even the lowest estimates placing the number of deaths from Spanish Flu at 20 million, the pandemic killed more people than had died on all sides in the First World War itself.