Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Non-Spanish Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918

Over at Science-Based Medicine, Harriet Hall has been having fun with Spanish Flu myths. But I found some of the true things about the 1918-19 influenza pandemic even more interesting.

One-third of the world's population was infected by the flu, and 20 to 50 million people died. Extrapolating our current population, the equivalent impact today would be 2.3 billion people infected and 93 to 233 million deaths.

The flu was not Spanish, which I already knew, but I'm not sure I ever had heard why it was called that. Hall explains,

Spain got the blame because it was a neutral country in WWI and had no wartime press censorship. The countries involved in the war censored news about flu cases in their own countries. When Spain reported its cases, that news was reprinted and everyone got the idea that that’s where the epidemic started.
On the myth front, Hall explains that the flu has been attributed to vaccines, aspirin overdoses, and government/pharma conspiracies. None of which is true, of course. It's H1N1 influenza, and has been sequenced from the body of an Inuit woman buried in the Alaskan permafrost. Scientists now hypothesize that it originated in birds and mutated to allow spread to humans.

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