Haunted by the Flu – Pandemic of 1918

By @nvds888

Aaah, it's that time of the year again. The weather turning cold. Leaves falling off the trees. And it’s very likely that friends, co-workers, or maybe even yourself already caught up with the inevitable flu. Sneezing and sore throats, the exclusive traits of the season.

In this current day and age we experience the flu as something that's part of our daily lives. Once the weather turns cold, the mild viruses will spread over the population. To deal with this, we most likely drink a cup of hot ginger tea, and take some advil for the headache. It’s part of life, and harmless at its core.

But, many scientists have warned not to go too gentle on influenza viruses. It only takes one new virus, that we’re not prepared for, to potentially eradicate the whole of human civilization. Am I exaggerating? Maybe, but let's dive into some of the most lethal virus outbursts in human history over the next few weeks. This will sketch a better image of the contagious nature of influenza, and what could happen if we fail to deal with it in the proper way.

The ''Spanish Flu''

During World War I, in the year of 1918, an unprecedented enemy arised. Early in the year it still wasn’t too obvious for many. Due to the war, many soldiers died, and if there really was some kind of virus sweeping around, people didn’t hesitate to blame it on the infectious trenches, where the soldiers would spend day and night.

During spring time, Spain started to notice that something wasn't right. Spain didn’t participate in World War I, and saw people die just after they had experienced common flu symptoms. These symptoms included: fever, nausea, aches and diarrhea.

The ''Spanish Flu'' later developed symptoms like: severe pneumonia attack, black spots would appear on the patient’s cheeks, and later they would suffocate from a lack of oxygen.

Even king Alfonso XIII (Spain) caught the virus, but eventually managed to survive it.

Later in 1918, around autumn, the second wave of the epidemic (people still thought it was only Spain that was prominently haunted by the virus) began. This wave was incredibly lethal, and killed as many as 20 of every 1000 people.

The countries that were at war (Germany, United Kingdom, France, and the United States) didn’t report any signs of the virus. Most likely for political reasons, so they wouldn't come off as weak to the opponent.

The War actually made it possible for the influenza virus to spread at an accelerated rate. Many soldiers would travel between the United States and Europe, and would easily infect one another down in the trenches. Poor personal hygiene, and malnutrition during the war also played an important role in the rapid distribution of the virus. The flu killed more people in 24 weeks than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years, and probably more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century.

As of today, the true geographical origin of the ‘’Spanish Flu’’ is still unknown. Although, there’s consensus that the furious pandemic didn’t originated in Spain, what the name ‘’Spanish Flu’’ indicates.

Trivia: Non of the countries at war broadcasted information about the lethal flu. Spain wasn't at war, so did broadcast its horrific nature to the world. This led to the use of the term ''Spanish Flu'' by many news outlets throughout the world.

The exact number of deaths by the ‘’Spanish Flu’’ isn’t determined. But, many estimate the number to be between 50 and 100 million. Which means that between 3 to 6 percent of the entire globe population died. In comparison, the estimate of deaths by World War I stands around 15 million. This pandemic has been described as ‘’The greatest medical holocaust in history’’ and may have killed more people than the Black Death.

The three waves of the ''Spanish Flu''

But, where did it come from?

The pandemic most likely originated from birds. It’s commonly accepted that swine were the intermediary host between birds and humans. Birds infected swine, and swine transmitted the disease to us humans. Swine have presented an attractive explanation for how avian viruses overcome the evolutionary barriers presented by different cellular environments in humans and birds. This created a problem, as our immune system didn’t recognize or respond to the dangerous influenza virus.

In 1918 there weren’t effective medicine around. Science wasn't capable of creating an antidote just yet. Instead, many chemical fluids were used to purify contaminated places, but there was a lot of critique on this method.

Public places, like libraries and stations were closed down, and infected souls were put in quarantine. The deadliest stage of the pandemic lasted till 1920, after which lethal cases rapidly declined.

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