Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic

I spoke about it in a previous post and I realised that this is an important issue, not just a side note. I never learned about it in school, nor did a lot of my friends. I've researched it and I found out that it's not in the American history books either. It's not even Spanish, it came from the US, and as Spain was not in the war at the time, they didn't have war time censorship and talked freely about it. That's why it came to be known as Spanish. Funny enough, in Spain it was called the French Flu.

But what was it? How did it happen? Apparently it was a type of avian influenza, just like the one we panic so much now, it emerged in an American military fort, then it spread as the soldiers were moved from place to place. When they came to fight in Europe, it spread there as well. The effects are very swift destruction of lung tissue which causes the patient to drown in his own fluids and the flu affected more the young and the fit, not the old people.

Opinions are divided, some say as much as 100 million people have died, while others give a more conservative value of 40-50 million. Compare that with the 16 million people killed in the entire World War I which just ended, and you realise the magnitude of the issue.

So, again, why have so little people heard about it? It is a horrible disaster, yet it is treated as a historical side note. I haven't heard of one movie that used it as a script idea. What is going on? Was the "war time censorship" so efficient? But then why did it not emerge as a huge thing afterwards?

As a history drive it was extremely powerful, for example US president Wilson who negociated the end of the war had it. Maybe if he had been stronger mentally, he wouldn't had let Clemenceau, the French counterpart, have his way in imposing harsher conditions on Germany. That, in turn, could have reduced the German motivation for starting World War II.

Even more interesting is how the disease disappeared. They didn't really have a cure for it, it just vanished, after killing so many. The mortality rate was rather small, too. The new avian influenza has a 66% kill ratio in humans so far.