A hypothesis: the conjunction of soldiers, gas, pigs, ducks, geese and horses in northern France during the Great War provided the conditions for the emergence of the "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-1919

Vaccine. 2005 Jan 4;23(7):940-5. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2004.06.035.


The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 was a cataclysmic outbreak of infection wherein over 50 million people died worldwide within 18 months. The question of the origin is important because most influenza surveillance at present is focussed on S.E. Asia. Two later pandemic viruses in 1957 and 1968 arose in this region. However we present evidence that early outbreaks of a new disease with rapid onset and spreadability, high mortality in young soldiers in the British base camp at Etaples in Northern France in the winter of 1917 is, at least to date, the most likely focus of origin of the pandemic. Pathologists working at Etaples and Aldershot barracks later agreed that these early outbreaks in army camps were the same disease as the infection wave of influenza in 1918. The Etaples camp had the necessary mixture of factors for emergence of pandemic influenza including overcrowding (with 100,000 soldiers daily changing), live pigs, and nearby live geese, duck and chicken markets, horses and an additional factor 24 gases (some of them mutagenic) used in large 100 ton quantities to contaminate soldiers and the landscape. The final trigger for the ensuing pandemic was the return of millions of soldiers to their homelands around the entire world in the autumn of 1918.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / history*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Ducks
  • France
  • Geese
  • History, 20th Century
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / pathogenicity
  • Influenza, Human / history*
  • Military Personnel / history*
  • Swine
  • World War I*