Babe Ruth Had the 1918 Flu

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When Babe Ruth and the Great Influenza Gripped Boston

Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith/Smithsonianmag.com

Even before Babe Ruth reached the Red Sox spring training camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and took his first tentative steps toward revolutionizing the game of baseball, the influenza virus destined to convulse the world lurked nearby.

Many epidemiologists believe that what became known as the “Spanish Flu” in all likelihood took shape in early 1918 in Haskell County, Kansas. Loring Miner, a successful country doctor and health official, first noticed the odd strain of influenza. He had never encountered one like it. The “grippe” tore into residents of the county—the characteristic chills, blinding headache, high fever, hacking cough, and debilitating body aches came on fast, and for some rugged, healthy residents of the county just as rapidly killed them.

Americans were on the move in early 1918, and the flu Miner identified moved with them. In early March, it showed up in the shamefully overcrowded barracks and tents of Camp Funston, Kansas, one of the Army’s hastily and poorly constructed cantonments to train soldiers for action in the war in Europe. At Funston more than several thousand doughboys sickened, dragging themselves to the camp hospital or infirmaries. Thirty-eight died. Those who recovered…read more:

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