Deadliest Pandemic Ever 

“The flu that swept the world”

Turning the pages of history, the Spanish Flu is the deadliest and darkest era of the epidemic in the world. The virus spread in 1918 and infected over 500 million people; that’s a huge number, hitting almost 1/3rd of the world’s population. Unfortunately, this deadly flu took at least 50 million lives worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States. While the name Spanish Flu reflects the relationship with Spain, surprisingly, evidence suggests that it originated in the United States and passed through American soldiers on their European visit by the end of the 1st World War. In the ongoing war scenarios, news reports relating to illness and death were not censored and captured in America, while Spain actively captured influenza flu death reports, diverting the focus on the belief that epidemic traits came from Spain. 

What Went Wrong?

“Refugees crowding cities, malnutrition, and shortages of doctors, nurses, and effective medications all contributed to the pandemic’s rapid spread and high rates of death.” 

  • Kenneth C. Davis, Book – “More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War”

Although 1918 was not considered a fully developed era, the medicine and healthcare sectors had already managed diseases like cholera, typhoid, and diphtheria. American militaries and their major cities had already extended experience with quarantines and preventive measures to restrict transmission. Numerous reasons, versed in history, such as overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, avoidance from the government, and lack of preparation, spread the Spanish flu-like wildfire. 

The first ever case recorded was on March 11, 1918, at Fort Riley in Kansas. Soon after one week, it transmitted rapidly, affecting more than 500 people, and gradually spread to other areas, like Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and California. By May 1918, the Spanish Flu had subsided over the entire United States and extended to the rest of the world. The epidemic got new names, spreading like three-day fever, purple death, and purulent bronchitis among Americans, while Italians named it Sand Fly fever and Germans Flanders fever. 

It might start like other influenza diseases, with common chills, fever, and sore throat symptoms. However, the Spanish flu has a deadly twist. It targets the victim’s lungs, and patients counter respiratory failure within a few hours. Starting with slow suffocation and turning to a blocked oxygen condition makes it a life-threatening disease. 

After the destructive first wave, the Spanish Flu came with a second and third wave that slammed the United States during the cold weather in 1918. Civilians were not immune; as a consequence, the epidemic took away entire villages like Alaska, New York’s death toll reached 33,000, and Philadelphia lost its 13,000 citizens within weeks. 

Severe Pandemic of the 20th Century!

Approximately 675,000 citizens of the United States died, infecting over 28 percent of the population. More U.S. soldiers died from the 1918 Spanish flu compared to those killed in the battle of World War I. That constitutes more American soldiers’ deaths in the 20th century combined. 

The Spanish flu was the most devastating epidemic in human history in terms of death counts and life-threatening symptoms. The massive outbreak spread across every inhabited part of the world; the age group of 20 to 40 years was adversely affected, which was an unusual mortality pattern for influenza. Countries like India witnessed a death toll of over 12.5 million due to the pandemic, while the number was high for the United States, with almost 5,50,000 to 6,00,000. This severe pandemic causes more casualties than in World War I and World War II. 

Footprints of the Pandemic! 

The deathly pandemic of the Spanish flu ended in 1920. Did it really end? The influenza virus became lethal; it is evident that it doesn’t disappear entirely but mutates into a less dangerous seasonal flu. After losing a large population, nations took their lessons and geared up in the recovery phase, and vaccinations and boosters were formulated to counter the immunity. 

Recently, few researchers have linked the outbreak of COVID-19 with the Spanish flu devastation. However, medical science has actively worked on vaccinations and protocols to protect livelihoods. The Spanish flu affects 33 percent of the world’s population when isolation and quarantine are not followed appropriately. As countries invest in healthcare to counter such deadly pandemics, they minimise the risk by identifying cases, observing them, and voluntarily enforcing quarantine or isolation. 

Yet there are similarities between the two pandemics. “For the first time in my career, I feel a real sense of what could be called ‘historical déjà vu’ in living through the COVID-19 lockdown. – Dr. Peter Hobbins.

Unfortunately, no one can predict the end of this influenza or other virus pandemic, but nations are backing their preventive protocols to save as many lives as possible.

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