Historian Draws Parallels Between The 1918 Spanish Flu And Today's Coronavirus Pandemic

Historians in the News
tags: public health, interview, COVID19, 1918 Spanish flu

In late August 1918, thousands of American sailors housed at the Commonwealth Pier in Boston's Seaport District were waiting to be shipped out to fight in Europe in World War I.

Then, a couple of sailors showed up at the sickbay with fevers and other symptoms. By the end of that week, about 100 more were falling ill, every day.

This was the second wave of the so-called Spanish flu that hit America in 1918, and it hit Boston first.

Author and historian Kenneth C. Davis spoke with WBUR's All Things Considered about his book on the 1918 outbreak, "More Deadly than War," and the coronavirus pandemic hitting the nation today.

Here are some highlights from the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On how Boston become "ground zero" for flu's second wave

Well, first of all, we have to set the scene by saying the emphasis on the war in September 1918. America was at war. It took nearly a year for the United States to get ready to send troops. And they had gone off in the spring of 1918, at the very time that what became known as the Spanish flu started take off. It had slacked off — flu season was over — but then started to make a comeback. In late August and early September and hit Boston with a vengeance. And Boston was a major military port and a nearby military encampment.

Read entire article at WBUR

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