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As the 1918 Flu Emerged, Cover-Up and Denial Helped It Spread

May 26, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Nations fighting in World War I were reluctant to report their flu outbreaks.

“. “The government can slam what’s called a D-Notice on [a news story]—‘D’ for Defense—and it means it can’t be published because it’s not in the national interest.”

Both newspapers and public officials claimed during the flu’s first wave in the spring and early summer of 1918 that it wasn’t a serious threat. The Illustrated London News wrote that the 1918 flu was “so mild as to show that the original virus is becoming attenuated by frequent transmission.” Sir Arthur Newsholme, chief medical officer of the British Local Government Board, suggested it was unpatriotic to be concerned with the flu rather than the war, Arnold says.

The flu’s second wave, which began in late summer and worsened that fall, was far deadlier. Even so, warring nations continued to try to hide it. In August, the interior minister of Italy—another Allied Power—denied reports of the flu’s spread. In September, British officials and newspaper barons suppressed news that the prime minister had caught the flu while on a morale-boosting trip to Manchester. Instead, the Manchester Guardian explained his extended stay in the city by claiming he’d caught a “severe chill” in a rainstorm.

READ MORE: Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Flu Was So Deadly

Warring nations covered up the flu to protect morale among their own citizens and soldiers, but also because they didn’t want enemy nations to know they were suffering an outbreak. The flu devastated General Erich Ludendorff’s German troops so badly that he had to put off his last offensive. The general, whose empire fought for the Central Powers, was anxious to hide his troops’ flu outbreaks from the opposing Allied Powers.

“Ludendorff is famous for observing [flu outbreaks among soldiers] and saying, oh my god this is the end of the war,” Byerly says. “His soldiers are getting influenza and he doesn’t want anybody to know, because then the French could attack him.”

The Pandemic in the United States

Patients at U. S. Army Hospital No. 30 at a movie wear masks because of an influenza epidemic.

The United States entered WWI as an Allied Power in April 1917. A little over a year later, it passed the 1918 Sedition Act, which made it a crime to say anything the government perceived as harming the country or the war effort. …read more

Source: HISTORY

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