This week in history: A second wave breaks in 1918 flu pandemic

In September 1918, the second wave of the 1918 flu pandemic hit an army base in Boston and went on to kill more people in the U.S. than the first wave. Here’s how this second wave was reported in the Chicago Daily News.

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News article on the second wave of the influenza outbreak

This tiny blurb at the bottom of the sixth page of the September 20, 1918 edition of the Chicago Daily News announced the second wave of the influenza outbreak — though readers didn’t know that at the time.

Chicago Daily News

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

As reports of a second COVID-19 outbreak circulate, Chicagoans may be asking, “How bad could it get?”

If the second wave of the 1918 influenza outbreak is any indication, then it could get much worse.

According to a report in the September 20, 1918 edition of the Chicago Daily News, outbreaks began anew that month at army camps on the East Coast.

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“Rapid spread of Spanish influenza among soldiers in training, with epidemics at Camp Devens, Mass; Camp Upton, N.Y.; Camp Dix, N.J., and Camp Lee, Va., is shown to-day in Surgeon-General Gorgas’ weekly health report,” the article read.

Though readers didn’t know it yet, these infections foreshadowed a second wave of the flu pandemic, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The surgeon-general says the disease may be expected to appear at other camps soon and to cause a general increase in the sick rate.”

“A general increase” would prove to be an understatement: the second wave, which would last from September through November, caused the most deaths during the pandemic, the CDC said, with 195,000 people dying in October alone.

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