#91 | 9 things you might not know about the Spanish flu

  1. The Spanish flu didn’t come from Spain

The name suggests that it might have come from Spain but it didn’t. The flu struck the world after World War I and dragged for years to come.

However, World War I was coming to an end, and many countries had put censorship on their media not to spread the news of the flu. People didn’t know about it earlier as the governments wanted to keep the morale of their soldiers intact. So, they controlled the media.

The major countries involved in the war wanted to avoid encouraging their enemies, so reports of the extent of the flu were suppressed in Germany, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S. By contrast, neutral Spain had no need to keep the flu secret. That created the false impression that Spain was suffering from the disease.

Since the nations were blaming it on one another, The Spanish media called it the ‘French Flu’ and argued that a French visitor had brought it to Madrid.

In fact, the geographic origin of the flu is debated to this day, though hypotheses have suggested East Asia, Europe and even Kansas.

2. It’s unlikely that the flu changed the outcome of World War I, because combatants on both sides of the battlefield were relatively equally affected.

However, there is little doubt that the war profoundly influenced the course of the pandemic. The concentration of millions of troops created ideal circumstances for the development of more aggressive strains of the virus and its spread around the globe.

3. There were three waves of the Spanish flu

The Spanish flu was not hitting the world in one go rather it had three different waves.

The first wave hit the world at the beginning of the year 1918 and was not severe. People who contracted the flu recovered faster within a few days. There were also fewer deaths and the flu was not that widespread.

The second was widespread throughout the world and was deadlier. It started in the later months of 1918 and had caused millions of deaths. The possible reason for this huge ratio of deaths was the mutation in the virus.

The next reason could be that it was the ending time of war and many countries withdrew their troops back. So, they had to travel much of the world. They carried the virus from one place to another much quicker.

The third wave was even more fatal than the second one. It started in January 1919 in Austria. Although it was also the deadliest. Still, the deaths were comparatively less because the war was ended and the international movement restricted.

4. No one knew how to fight the Spanish Flu

The doctors and medical experts of the time were caught unaware and they didn’t know what to do to control this pandemic. They just experimented and tried whatever remedy they thought would help to alleviate the miseries of the people.

The aspirin was a relatively new drug available at that time. The doctors recommended this on cure-all formula. They recommended that a patient should take as much as 30 gm of aspirin a day to help keep the pandemic controlled.

However, this recommendation proved to be more fatal than the disease itself. Aspirin is still used as a drug for medical purposes but not more than 4 gm a daily dose. The high dose of aspirin a day has further aggravated the situation and added to more deaths.

5. The only cure that worked was social distancing

Various US states used different tactics to fight the flu.

Social distancing was used as a tactic in some states from the very onset of the pandemic while other states waited longer to make decisions. The states that took longer to impose social distancing had higher ratio of deaths than those that had taken early decisions on banning the gatherings.

Similarly, those states that eased their restrictions on social distancing experienced another deadliest attack of the Spanish Flu. While the states where the restrictions were kept intact saw the virus become weaker.

Social distancing was the only tactic that worked well to control the Spanish flu as it has worked in the current pandemic.

6. The vast majority of the people who contracted the 1918 flu survived

National death rates among the infected generally did not exceed 20 percent.

However, death rates varied among different groups. In the U.S., deaths were particularly high among Native American populations, perhaps due to lower rates of exposure to past strains of influenza. In some cases, entire Native communities were wiped out.

7. The flu affected people irrespective of age

People from 20–40 years of age had been more influenced as opposed to the idea that young people were more immune to diseases.

Nevertheless, there was no certain age that was immune to it. The children, the young, and the elderly were all in the grip of this virus.

Still, those who had certain medical conditions or had an old age of more than 65, or children or people with tuberculosis were more prone to get the Spanish flu.

But countless deaths of young males and females didn’t show any sign of unhealthy medical conditions previously. Most people who died because of the virus were strong and healthy, though.

So, the flu was deadly and fatal for everyone.

8. Immunization against the flu as we know it today was not practiced in 1918, and thus played no role in ending the pandemic.

Exposure to prior strains of the flu may have offered some protection. For example, soldiers who had served in the military for years suffered lower rates of death than new recruits.

In addition, the rapidly mutating virus probably evolved over time into less lethal strains. This is predicted by models of natural selection. Because highly lethal strains kill their host rapidly, they cannot spread as easily as less lethal strains.

9. The Spanish flu killed more than 50 million people

With the range of two years, the Spanish flu brought serious damage to the world. It was potentially the deadliest virus that struck the world in history. Had it been dragged on for longer, it would have taken the heaviest toll on human life.

Still, the losses were not less. The Spanish flu killed almost 50 million people around the world. However, the estimate is highly under-calculated. These deaths are estimated according to the available recorded sources.

According to assumptions on the total possible deaths, given the seriousness of the pandemic, the deaths may have crossed the number of 100 million.

This assumption seems true as it was the time of war and the world was not as modern compared to today to report every possible case. The reason for under-reporting was that the sources of communication were limited.

Given the lack of reporting source, it can be said that the deaths were quite more than 50 million and were near to 100 million.

The pandemic, nonetheless, wiped out nearly 3% of the world’s population.



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