Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Global Pandemic: Spanish Flu

"British officials knew that whatever the plague was, there were Chinese labourers sick with it. And they were being shipped across Canada."
"People thought it was the return of the same plague they had seen the year before. It was investigated and it was determined in fact to be Spanish influenza. To me, that's a smoking gun."
"In the spring of 1917 the (U.K.) Foreign Office requested that Ottawa allow the Chinese labourers to pass through the Dominion of Canada and that the government of Robert Borden arrange for their transportation."
"The Canadian prime minister agreed, but it was not a simple matter. Chinese immigration was a sensitive subject in Canada, and there were nativist fears that the labourers might try to escape while travelling across country." "Twenty-five thousand Chinese workers were being transported to Europe via Canada, many coming from the plague-affected areas in China."
"It travelled the rail lines very quickly. It moved from the East Coast to the West Coast in a matter of days."
"The Chinese origins theory best explains evidence that only falls into place when the disease is placed within its proper military context and the mobilization of peoples necessitated by the global nature of the Great War."
"For the first time, massive numbers of people from previously isolated populations converged on the battlefields of Europe. The mobilization of the CLC may have allowed a new disease to spread in fits and starts from China, across North America, to Europe, where it mutated and then exploded along the sinews of war. In this way influenza followed the same path carved by previous epidemics. The result was the most deadly disease event in history."
Memorial University history professor Mark Humphries
Newfoundland's Mark Humphries has come to the conclusion that the historical epidemic that took the lives of over fifty million people worldwide around the end of the First World War appears, from what he has been able to glean from the historical record, to have originated in China. It was trainloads of Chinese labourers conscripted from the very areas of China that had succumbed to this new virulent strain of flu that passed through Canada en route to wartime Europe that spread the virus.

The Chinese Labour Corps, young men recruited by the British government in replacement of able-bodied European workers who had all been sent off to war, and who were infected with the flu virus represented the vector. Their trajectory through Canada, at the behest of the mother country, spread the virus within Canada, led to the death of 50,000 Canadians succumbing to the contagion, while globally, an estimated three percent of the Earth's population perished, between 1918 and 1920.

Published in the January issue of the journal War in History, Professor Humphries' theory explained the need for new workers in Europe was so desperate that one ship stuffed with three thousand labourers left Weihaiwei, China for Vancouver in 1918, even though a recruitment ban was in effect in China at that time, resulting from the outbreak of a mysterious respiratory illness.

(According to the World Health Organization, influenza kills 250,000 to 500,000 people annually; most who die are elderly.)

In stark contrast to this, Spanish influenza made its target young, healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 40. The plague that swept China in 1917 arrived in Europe the following year, with symptoms identical to those of the 1917 contagion. The potency of the 1918 flu strain resulted from a highly unusual combination of characteristics that "turned the body's immune system against itself, making it most deadly to those with particularly robust defences".

"Special Railway Service Guards from the army were placed on the transport trains and guards were stationed at the camps encased in barbed wire fences. Newspapers were banned from reporting on the movement of the CLC and the whole enterprise was kept secret."

Kept secret from the public, even though Canadian newspapers published reports at that time about people "dying by the scores" in China due to "an epidemic of pneumonia". Even as British, French, American and German censorship downplayed news of the outbreak, in Spain there was news freedom.

Which led to the erroneous conception that the disease was rampant in Spain only, eventually transitioning to other parts of Europe. And that is how the influenza pandemic came to be named the Spanish Flu.

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