ponedjeljak, 9. studenoga 2009.

Influenza Pandemic

Influenza Pandemic swept the world from 1918 to 1920 taking between 50-100 million lives. The pandemic also known as the “Spanish flu” or “La Grippe” took more lives then World War 1 itself spreading over the whole globe, even the most isolated parts of the world as Arctic and remote Pacific islands. What was firstly believed to be a common cold which came every year, turned out to be the “greatest medical holocaust in history[1].”

Origins of the name

The influenza was named Spanish Flu for two reasons. Firstly because Spain was highly affected by the flu in the early stages of the pandemic and secondly because despite being a neutral country in the World War 1, they took little care about stopping the flu so the most accurate reports about the flu came from Spain.

Sources of the Spanish Flu

There are different speculations concerning the source of the flu. Some believe that it was a German biological weapon but more reliable theory comes from Dr. C. Hannoun who was one of the leading experts on the flu at the time. He believes that the flu originated somewhere in the Far East, most likely to have come from China and then mutated in United States and spread to Europe and further. He created other theories about its origins as Spain and Brest, but those are less likely to be correct. Other people of the time, as Alfred W. Crosby, a historian, thought that flu originated in Kansas while scientists like Andrew Price-Smith considered Austria to be the first outbreak of the deadly flu.

Death Rate

Being the greatest pandemic in the history of human kind, Spanish flu killed between 3%-6% of the total world population. The world population counted about 1.6 billion people from which one third got infected with the flu. Between 10 and 20 % of infected people died. Unlike common colds which affected old people and children the most, influenza struck the hardest on young people. The reason for that is believed to be the cytokine storm[2]. Cytokines are a part of the body’s defensive system which cause high fever, extreme fatigue, nausea and other symptoms, in order to destroy the pathogen (which was the influenza). Thus young people which had the strongest immune system had the strongest reactions of the cytokines which made them more likely to die then children and elders.
Influenza Pandemic in 1918 did not discriminate any part of the world. Spreading across the world it affected urban areas as well as rural. Extreme climate conditions did not affect the spread of the influenza as it spread even to remote parts of Alaska. Later studied discovered that the influenza had higher death rate in moist areas because the virus survived much easier then in dry areas. In 1918 children skipped the rope singing the rhyme:
“I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.”[3]

The battle fiends in Europe were greatly affected by the pandemic as well. At the beginning the military did not even recognize that some of the soldiers were victims of the influenza. The treacherous conditions in the trenches could have hardly been worse. Thus in the last year of The Great War many were not killed by the enemy. For example, half of the US soldiers who died fighting in the war in Europe, actually died from the flu.

The impact of the pandemic

When the pandemic began in 1918, people considered that it to be a common cold which came every year. It was jet later that the influenza was indentified as a great treat to humanity. In USA the government took extreme measures to prevent the flu from spreading. Gauze masks were distributed among the population and public health departments. Some towns required a certificate saying that the person is healthy to enter as well as all railroads otherwise they would not accept the passenger. Even the President Woodrow Wilson was affected by the flu in early 1919 when he was negotiating the terms of the treaty of Versailles. Because of the high death rate, there was a lack of coffins, morticians and gravediggers. When the wounded soldiers from Europe came back home, hospitals and medical staff were up to their limits. As a result, the medical students from third and fourth year had to take care of the sick.

After the pandemic had stopped, people blamed the government for not reacting sooner. Today measures are taken each year to prevent similar pandemics from happening. Scientists are constantly following the mutations of the influenza viruses as well as other viruses so that they could make a vaccine in time to stop a pandemic. The 1918 pandemic served as a harsh warning to the humanity that the power of nature should not be underestimated.

[1] Wikipedia Foundation Inc. “1918 flu pandemic.” [Online] September 29 2009
URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic
[2] Cytokines are proteins in our blood that control the immune system. Cytokine storm is the reaction of cytokines when a pathogen enters the body.
[3] Molly Billings. “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.” [Online] June 1997
URL: http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/


Wikipedia Foundation Inc. “1918 Flu Pandemic.” [Online] September 29, 2009
URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic

Wikipedia Foundation Inc. “Cytokine Storm.” [Online] October 25, 2009
URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytokine_storm

National Archives. “The Deadly Virus.” [Online]
URL: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/

Jeffery K. Taubenberger. “1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics.” [Online] December 22, 2005
URL: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol12no01/05-0979.htm

The Office of Historians and Navy Medicine Magazine. "Influenza of 1918 (Spanish Flu) and the US Navy.” [Online] February 17, 2006
URL: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/influenza_main.htm

Molly Billings. “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.” [Online] June 1997
URL: http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/

Wikipedia Foundation Inc. “Influenza.” [Online] November 9, 2009
URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influenza