Franken Flu – created in a lab

Frankenstein aka Modern Prometheus was published on this day in 1818, but fast forward 100 yrs later and a real monster that terrorized the world, would makes it’s debut. Where […]
March 11, 2016

Frankenstein aka Modern Prometheus was published on this day in 1818, but fast forward 100 yrs later and a real monster that terrorized the world, would makes it’s debut. Where did it come from? To this day I refuse to get a flu shot. I never had the flu and I certainly do not want it, but neither did the 30-50 million worldwide and it started right here at Ft Riley, KS.

In the early hours of 11 MARCH 1918 it was still dark when Mess SGT Albert Gitchell woke up. He felt terrible, and the thought of making breakfast for hundreds of hungry soldiers at Fort Reilly’s Camp Funston in the predawn hours made him feel even worse. He hadn’t slept well. He’d gone to bed feeling miserable. He thought he was coming down with a cold and hoped a good night’s sleep would make him feel better. It hadn’t. After a night of tossing and turning, he felt worse than he had the night before. His head throbbed, he was burning with fever, he had the mother of all sore throats and every muscle in his body ached. He wouldn’t be cooking breakfast for anybody this Monday morning, Gitchell thought, as he struggled out of his bunk and put on his fatigues. His tortured muscles protested every movement. His head pounded every time he took a step. He felt as if he hadn’t slept in a week, and his body was on fire. Without stopping to shave or shower, he left his barracks on this damp cold March morning headed for the camp hospital — and walked into the pages of medical history.

At Hospital Building 91, part of a sprawling Army medical complex that predated the Spanish-American War, the duty sergeant took Gitchell’s temperature, noted it was 103 degrees, listened to the cook describe his symptoms and, as a precaution, ordered him to bed in the ward reserved for men suffering from any ailment that might prove contagious.
With Gitchell out of the way, the medic turned his attention to CPL Lee W. Drake, the next man in line. Drake, a truck driver assigned to the Headquarters Transportation Detachment’s First Battalion, reported the same symptoms Gitchell described. The duty medic sent him to the same ward. Right behind Drake came SGT Adolph Hurby. He was coughing, and his temperature was sky-high. His complaints echoed those of the two previous soldiers. His temperature hovered around 104 degrees, his pulse was low, he was drowsy, and he winced with pain every time his eyes were exposed to bright light. His throat, nasal passages and bronchial tubes were inflamed and badly congested with mucous. He was one sick soldier.

The medic was alarmed. Three men with identical symptoms arriving at the hospital within minutes of each other spelled trouble on any military base. But on a base packed with 26,000 men it could mean disaster. The last thing anyone on this huge Army base wanted in these waning days of World War I was an outbreak of contagious disease, and here was a clear warning that something very unpleasant might be loose and rapidly spreading. It was more than the harried medic could deal with. He picked up the phone and alerted 1LT Elizabeth Harding, the chief nurse. Within minutes Harding arrived at the building, one of a series of aging limestone structures with a combined capacity of 3,068 beds. She was immediately confronted with two more soldiers with symptoms matching Gitchell’s. Harding wasted no time. She grabbed the wall phone and called her commanding officer, COL Edward R. Schreiner, a 45-year-old Army surgeon, rousing the sleeping doctor from his bed. Schreiner listened to Harding with growing alarm. He had been dreading an outbreak of infectious disease at the overcrowded base, and what he was hearing from Harding sounded ominous. He put the phone down, jumped out of bed, dressed hurriedly, and raced to the hospital in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by his orderly. Within minutes he saw his worst nightmares coming true. Soldiers were arriving in droves, all of them suffering from what he recognized as some form of flu that appeared to be highly contagious. By noon, the list of men stricken with the mysterious illness had grown to 107. Before the week was over, 522 men had been felled by it.

The initial outbreak of the disease, reported at Fort Riley in March, was followed by similar outbreaks in army camps and prisons in various regions of the country. The disease soon traveled to Europe with the American soldiers heading to aid the Allies on the battlefields of France. (In March 1918 alone, 84,000 American soldiers headed across the Atlantic; another 118,000 followed them the next month.) Once it arrived on a second continent, the flu showed no signs of abating: 31,000 cases were reported in June in Great Britain. The disease was soon dubbed the Spanish flu due to the shockingly high number of deaths in Spain (some 8 million, it was reported) after the initial outbreak there in May 1918.

The flu showed no mercy for combatants on either side of the trenches. Over the summer, the first wave of the epidemic hit German forces on the Western Front, where they were waging a final, no-holds-barred offensive that would determine the outcome of the war. It had a significant effect on the already weakening morale of the troops–as German army commander Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote on August 3: poor provisions, heavy losses, and the deepening influenza have deeply depressed the spirits of men in the III Infantry Division. Meanwhile, the flu was spreading fast beyond the borders of Western Europe, due to its exceptionally high rate of virulence and the massive transport of men on land and aboard ship due to the war effort. By the end of the summer, numerous cases had been reported in Russia, North Africa and India; China, Japan, the Philippines and even New Zealand would eventually fall victim as well.

The Great War ended on November 11, but influenza continued to wreak international havoc, flaring again in the U.S. in an even more vicious wave with the return of soldiers from the war and eventually infecting an estimated 28 percent of the country’s population before it finally petered out. In its 28 December 1918, issue, the American Medical Association acknowledged the end of one momentous conflict and urged the acceptance of a new challenge, stating that Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all—infectious disease.

The flu would eventually kill 675,000 Americans and more than 20 million people (some believe the total may be closer to 40 million) around the world, proving to be a far deadlier force than even the First World War.

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