The Great Influenza

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In recalling US involvement in World War I, one statistic is startling.  Combat deaths for the US totaled 53,402.  US military deaths from what was called Spanish flu totaled around 45,000.  In 1918 some 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish flue.   World War I killed some 20 million people.  From 1918 to 1920 the Spanish flu killed between 50 and a hundred million people, three to five percent of the population of the Earth at the time.  Speculations as to the origin point of the flu range from Kansas to China.  The Great Influenza gained its name of the Spanish flu, due to strict wartime censorship of the devastating swathe which the Influenza cut in the nations at war.  However, reporters were free to report on the mass mortality in neutral nations, and press coverage of the course of the Influenza in Spain produced sensational headlines throughout Europe and the US.  Considering the mortality produced by the Great Influenza, it is strange how little it bulks in memory, compared to the purely man made disaster of World War I.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve been seeing it pop up more often– but always in conjunction with fear mongering aimed at slaying an anti-vaxx strawman.

    While I’m no expert, the summary for why it was so horrifically deadly had to do with putting the guys who had it in with the guys who had a broken leg, exposing everybody in the sickbay, and then discharging some of those guys home on ships with everybody else.

    And they should have known better, I know folks had pox-parties back then.

    I use to think it was unrealistically stupid.

    Then last year (or the year before?) when they had the big flu scare, only one city went “DO NOT GO TO THE ER IF YOU HAVE THE FLU, WE HAVE SPECIAL FLU CLINICS, GO THERE” and schools did absolutely nothing different (a daycare version of the open medical wards), even when it was clear the vaccine wasn’t stopping the flu.

  2. That flu mutated very quickly and spread through large concentrations of young healthy men amassed at military training camps. My MN grandfather MD never lost a patient to the deadly virus. Wasn’t old enough when he was alive to ask him about it. My guess: because Grampy practiced strict hygiene between seeing patients and made house calls in his buggy or cutter instead of seeing them at his office. I do remember hearing that on farms they would put out lanterns or a flag at the roadside if a family member were sick. Disinfectant and isolation.
    Regarding NBC, of then three I worry about biological warfare, and modern epidemics. The U.S. Navy has medical research stations all over the world to get out in front of epidemics. Jakarta station may have identified SARS first.

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