Royce Shook

3 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Pandemic Flu 100 years ago

The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago – but many of us still get the basic facts wrong, so starts the story at the  written by Richard Gunderman,  Chancellor's Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University.

I like many of my generation I was dimly aware of the great Pandemic of 1918-1919 and had put it out of my mind. In school, we studied the Black Plague (the 1300's) which devastated Europe, but we did not spend much time on the Pandemic of 1918. Perhaps we should have studied it to see if there are any lessons we can learn to protect ourselves from the influences attacking us today. 

In his article, Professor Gunderman lists the top ten myths and goes into details about why they are wrong.  In his introduction, he says,  "By correcting these 10 myths, we can better understand what actually happened and learn how to prevent and mitigate such disasters in the future."
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I am listing the Myths below for more information go to his article, here.

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. 
2. The pandemic was the work of a ‘super-virus’
The 1918 flu spread rapidly, killing 25 million people in just the first six months. 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.
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. 
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. Of course, even a 20 percent death rate vastly exceeds the 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. That’s still largely true today, where most medical care for the flu aims to support patients, rather than cure them.
6. The pandemic dominated the day’s 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. 
7. The pandemic changed the course of World War I
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.
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. In addition, the rapidly mutating virus likely evolved over time into 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.
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. 


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Lisa Vanderburg

3 years ago #1

Fascinating, Royce Shook, as it always will be. For better or worse, virus will have its day (and its way with us!). As our antibiotics become more and more ineffectual, I suspect..almost bet on, a super-duper virus will precede the last wars humans will fight. Whether they prevail in a timely fashion (i.e. the populace will be exhaused - perfect grounds for a-culling for a virus!) is...dubious.

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