Skip to comments.How the Spanish Flu Wasn't Actually Spain's Fault at All
Posted on 02/08/2018 10:12:28 PM PST by nickcarraway
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. Between 50 and 100 million people are thought to have died, representing as much as 5 percent of the worlds population. Half a billion people were infected.
By Richard Gunderman, Indiana University
Especially remarkable was the 1918 flus predilection for taking the lives of otherwise healthy young adults, as opposed to children and the elderly, who usually suffer most. Some have called it the greatest pandemic in history.
The 1918 flu pandemic has been a regular subject of speculation over the last century. Historians and scientists have advanced numerous hypotheses regarding its origin, spread and consequences. As a result, many of us harbor misconceptions about it.
By correcting these 10 myths, we can better understand what actually happened and learn how to prevent and mitigate such disasters in the future.
1. The pandemic originated in Spain No one believes the so-called Spanish flu originated in Spain.
The pandemic likely acquired this nickname because of World War I, which was in full swing at the time. The major countries involved in the war were keen 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 under wraps. That created the false impression that Spain was bearing the brunt of the disease.
In fact, the geographic origin of the flu is debated to this day, though hypotheses have suggested East Asia, Europe and even Kansas.
2. The pandemic was the work of a super-virus
A Chicago Public Health poster outlines flu regulations during the pandemic. origins.osu.edu
The 1918 flu spread rapidly, killing 25 million people in just the first six months. This led some to fear the end of mankind, and has long fueled the supposition that the strain of influenza was particularly lethal.
However, more recent study suggests that the virus itself, though more lethal than other strains, was not fundamentally different from those that caused epidemics in other years.
Much of the high death rate can be attributed to crowding in military camps and urban environments, as well as poor nutrition and sanitation, which suffered during wartime. Its now thought that many of the deaths were due to the development of bacterial pneumonias in lungs weakened by influenza.
3. The first wave of the pandemic was most lethal Actually, the initial wave of deaths from the pandemic in the first half of 1918 was relatively low.
It was in the second wave, from October through December of that year, that the highest death rates were observed. A third wave in spring of 1919 was more lethal than the first but less so than the second.
Scientists now believe that the marked increase in deaths in the second wave was caused by conditions that favored the spread of a deadlier strain. People with mild cases stayed home, but those with severe cases were often crowded together in hospitals and camps, increasing transmission of a more lethal form of the virus.
4. The virus killed most people who were infected with it In fact, 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.
Of course, even a 20 percent death rate vastly exceeds a typical flu, which kills less than one percent of those infected.
5. Therapies of the day had little impact on the disease No specific anti-viral therapies were available during the 1918 flu. Thats still largely true today, where most medical care for the flu aims to support patients, rather than cure them.
One hypothesis suggests that many flu deaths could actually be attributed to aspirin poisoning. Medical authorities at the time recommended large doses of aspirin of up to 30 grams per day. Today, about four grams would be considered the maximum safe daily dose. Large doses of aspirin can lead to many of the pandemics symptoms, including bleeding.
However, death rates seem to have been equally high in some places in the world where aspirin was not so readily available, so the debate continues.
6. The pandemic dominated the days news Public health officials, law enforcement officers and politicians had reasons to underplay the severity of the 1918 flu, which resulted in less coverage in the press. In addition to the fear that full disclosure might embolden enemies during wartime, they wanted to preserve public order and avoid panic.
However, officials did respond. At the height of the pandemic, quarantines were instituted in many cities. Some were forced to restrict essential services, including police and fire.
7. The pandemic changed the course of World War I Its 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. Concentrating millions of troops created ideal circumstances for the development of more aggressive strains of the virus and its spread around the globe
Patients receive care for the Spanish flu at Walter Reed Military Hospital, in Washington, D.C. origins.osu.edu
8. Widespread immunization ended the pandemic 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 likely 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 genes of the virus have never been sequenced In 2005, researchers announced that they had successfully determined the gene sequence of the 1918 influenza virus. The virus was recovered from the body of a flu victim buried in the permafrost of Alaska, as well as from samples of American soldiers who fell ill at the time.
Two years later, monkeys infected with the virus were found to exhibit the symptoms observed during the pandemic. Studies suggest that the monkeys died when their immune systems overreacted to the virus, a so-called cytokine storm. Scientists now believe that a similar immune system overreaction contributed to high death rates among otherwise healthy young adults in 1918.
10. The 1918 pandemic offers few lessons for 2018 Severe influenza epidemics tend to occur every few decades. Experts believe that the next one is a question not of if but when.
While few living people can recall the great flu pandemic of 1918, we can continue to learn its lessons, which range from the commonsense value of handwashing and immunizations to the potential of anti-viral drugs. Today we know more about how to isolate and handle large numbers of ill and dying patients, and we can prescribe antibiotics, not available in 1918, to combat secondary bacterial infections. Perhaps the best hope lies in improving nutrition, sanitation and standards of living, which render patients better able to resist the infection.
The ConversationFor the foreseeable future, flu epidemics will remain an annual feature of the rhythm of human life. As a society, we can only hope that we have learned the great pandemics lessons sufficiently well to quell another such worldwide catastrophe.
By Richard Gunderman, Chancellor's Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University
So it’s the Hispanic Flu?
I’ve been reading a book about this,since my great-grandmother died in this epidemic when she was 30.
It is probably considered a racist disease, because it might be the White Hispanic Flu. 😆
It’s the West Kansas Flu.
Western Kansas if pretty dry and sparsely populated.
How can there be much flu out there?
My mother came from her dad’s second family. His first one all died except for one daughter.
I’m not sure, but that’s where experts on the 1918 Flu seem to think that it began. There may well have been an Army training camp in western Kansas, this was during our participation in World War One- and Army camps are where that flu hit early and particularly hard.
“...So if the contemporary observers were correct, if American troops carried the virus to Europe, where in the United States did it begin?
Both contemporary epidemiological studies and lay histories of the pandemic have identified the first known outbreak of epidemic influenza as occurring at Camp Funston, now Ft. Riley, in Kansas. But there was one place where a previously unknown and remarkable epidemic of influenza occurred.
Haskell County, Kansas, lay three hundred miles to the west of Funston. There the smell of manure meant civilization. People raised grains, poultry, cattle, and hogs. Sod-houses were so common that even one of the county’s few post offices was located in a dug-out sod home. In 1918 the population was just 1,720, spread over 578 square miles. But primitive and raw as life could be there, science had penetrated the county in the form of Dr. Loring Miner. Enamored of ancient Greece he periodically reread the classics in Greek he epitomized William Welch’s comment that “the results [of medical education] were better than the system.” His son was also a doctor, trained in fully scientific ways, serving in the Navy in Boston.
In late January and early February 1918 Miner was suddenly faced with an epidemic of influenza, but an influenza unlike any he had ever seen before. Soon dozens of his patients the strongest, the healthiest, the most robust people in the county were being struck down as suddenly as if they had been shot. Then one patient progressed to pneumonia. Then another. And they began to die. The local paper Santa Fe Monitor, apparently worried about hurting morale in wartime, initially said little about the deaths but on inside pages in February reported, “Mrs. Eva Van Alstine is sick with pneumonia. Her little son Roy is now able to get up... Ralph Lindeman is still quite sick... Goldie Wolgehagen is working at the Beeman store during her sister Eva’s sickness... Homer Moody has been reported quite sick... Mertin, the young son of Ernest Elliot, is sick with pneumonia... Pete Hesser’s children are recovering nicely... Ralph McConnell has been quite sick this week (Santa Fe Monitor, February 14th, 1918).”
The epidemic got worse. Then, as abruptly as it came, it disappeared. Men and women returned to work. Children returned to school. And the war regained its hold on people’s thoughts....”
It was Ft. Riley back then too. Camp Funston was a training facility built on the grounds of Ft. Riley.
My Grandma Edith died in it leaving my Mom bereft, and her brother and three other older sisters motherlesss. Grandpa Charles could not handle raising the five alone, so Mom, then three, and Uncle Earl the youngest were placed by Social Services as foster children, and eventually adopted by their new caretakers.
Even in such circumstances, God works in wondrous ways. Mom was taken from her birth situation and placed with a godly, caring new Mom and Dad, and received the best kind of affection and pious Methodist upbringing that Grandpa Charles would not have offered her.
Mom finished high School with high grades, and was sent to a fine Wesleyan College. There she met and influenced my Dad, who entered the Methodist ministry, receiving a B. A. and subsequently B. Div. in three years of seminary.
Ultimately, when she was widowed, my adoptive kindly Grandma came to live with us, profoundly impacting my own formative years.
That is, on account of the pervasive "Spanish" flu, God used it to organize my Mom's life, gave her an outstanding, faithful, fine husband, and with him, me. But also because of it, my maternal heritage was never a mystery. Grandpa Charles and his second wife Clara never forgot Mom or me, either, through the following years.
I exist because of the Spanish flu, for which I am eternally grateful, as I am of God's continuing and protecting watch care over me.
That goddamsonofabitch Richard Gunderman killed 5% of the world's population; who cares what university he graduated from?
Missing a </sarc> tag?
Western Kansas if pretty dry and sparsely populated.
How can there be much flu out there?
If you were a flu, what better place to hide than a sparsely populated area?
A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
“Let us fly!” said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
Yup... Pig farmers from the United States, but in the end who cares? They called it the Spanish Flu and it will now be known as the Spanish Flu forever.
Was there a military base there?
I recommend the book “Flu” by Gina Kolata for anyone who wants to learn more. The descriptions of entire communities wiped out and people who wake up feeling fine and drop dead walking to work is chilling. There is also the fascinating (and scary) story of researchers trying to recover the flu strain for study by digging up victims frozen in permafrost.
Thanks I will look into that.
There is also a very good documentary thats available on YouTube.
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