UA-142647510-2 Pandemic Panic (Part 3) - The Spanish Flu of 1918

Episode 44

We continue our discussion on pandemic mania, and this time we are getting to the heart of the matter. The reason for the season. The baseline by which all modern outbreaks are weighed and measured. The Spanish Flu of 1918.

Let us begin first by understanding first what exactly the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 was. As we go through, this, there will be plenty of facts, figures, dates, and percentages. Don’t worry about following the details. The key, just as when we discussed COVID19, is to register the enormous scale to which the influenza outbreak is attributed. 

The Spanish Flu is more accurately labeled the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. It is widely accepted to be a pandemic involving the H1N1 influenza virus, a precursor to the H1N1 that we are familiar with today. It received the moniker “Spanish Flu” as a result of press reporting received from then neutral Spain. When much of the news in Europe and the United States was minimized and censored under the auspices of morale during the war, unrestricted reporting in Spain presented a false impression of epidemic severity in contrast to other countries, thus establishing the popularity of the name “Spanish Flu, especially in the United States. 

It is estimated to have infected a quarter of the world population, then 1.8 billion. The death toll is as broad and uncertain as other aspects of this outbreak, with estimates from 20-50 million. Some even attribute up to 100 million, though that requires lumping pretty much every potential respiratory and secondary infection mortality under the blame of the flu. Though historical study and epidemiological research has shed some light on the possible causes and details of this expansive and deadly disease, much remains unknown. The point of origin remains unknown, since the disease seems to have surfaced almost simultaneously in multiple regions, with theories pointing to China, the United States or France. Likewise, the details of the virus, which caused the resulting pandemic to appear extremely virulent and deadly, are in dispute. While some research shows the virus itself to be a deadly strain, other analysis indicates that the infection was no more aggressive or severe than previous influenza events. Wikipedia expands on this contraindication, stating that this would then attribute the high mortality to the state of the global population at the time, experiencing undernourishment, crowded medical camps, congestion and diversity on battlefields, and expansive travel and mobility of previously isolated populations. All of which resulted in the possible development of a bacterial super-infection. 


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