The New York Times/1918/06/28/Topics of the Times/Concerning "Spanish Influenza"

Topics of the Times

Published Friday, June 28, 1918


What degree of importance should be ascribed to the report that an epidemic of "Spanish influenza" is sweeping through the German armies on the western front depends on the degree of virulence marking the particular strain of bacilli that is now at work. Sometimes the effects they produce are little more than annoying, but not infrequently they are completely disabling for long periods—several months—and many of the victims die or become invalids for life. It is possible, therefore, that the appearance of this malady may influence the conduct of the war, or even play a part in deciding its conclusion.

If one were allowed to be human rather than humane, there would be a general yielding throughout the allied world to the temptation to express the hope that the Germans may have the disease in a severe form. That would be no more than they deserve, indeed, but for at least one reason—the reason that wishes, in such matters, do not count either way—it is better not to put in definite form a desire which, after all, is worthier of Germans than of civilized people.

Moreover, if the influenza is raging on one side of No Man's Land, it is sure soon to appear on our side of the lines. But that it would be equally disastrous when thus transferred by prisoners or otherwise is by no means certain. On the contrary, there is ground for hoping and even for believing that the soldiers of the Allies, not having been through a long course of undernourishment, would be better able than the Germans to resist the attack of the bacilli, and that their sufferings from such a cause would be comparatively light.

The fact that this influenza is called Spanish by no means proves it of that origin. Dubious, too, is the recently suggested theory that the malady in its present form was started by the conditions produced among men making long cruises in submarines. Yet that theory may be true. Bacilli are as much affected by environment as are any other animals, and the submarine strain of the influenza bacillus might well be measurably unlike its relatives and more injurious to human hosts.

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