The Spanish flu pandemic occurred from January 1918 to December 1920, involving the H1N1 influenza virus. Despite such a name, this pandemic did not originate from Spain. Because of the war, the participating countries blocked news about the disease. Spain was a neutral country, so there was no need to hide the news. Spain was the first country to report cases of infection.
The virus that caused the pandemic was thought to originate from birds, pigs or both. Some experts believed that flu originated in East Asia, an area with many zoonotic diseases. Claude Hannoun, a leading expert on the Pasteur Institute’s 1918 influenza epidemic, said the virus was likely to start in China. Later, it transformed in the United States and from there spread to France and throughout Europe.
Meanwhile, Andrew Price-Smith scientist, who cites Austrian archives showed that the flu began in Austria in early 1917. In 2014, Mark Humphries historian thought that the mobilization of 96,000 China’s workers to work behind the troops of Britain and France during World War I could be the source of the pandemic.
What was special about the Spanish flu epidemic was that the victims were mostly young people, aged 20-40, instead of the elderly as in other ones. Experts believed that the elderly infected with the Spanish flu may had been infected with a similar kind before and therefore be immune to a certain level, according to the BBC. The mortality rate of Spanish influenza was estimated to be 10-20%, while the mortality rate of other pandemics was 0.1%.
When an infected person sneezes or coughs, more than half a million virus particles could spread to nearby people. 50% of infected people had abnormal symptoms such as nose, stomach, intestine bleeding, edema and pulmonary hemorrhage. A total of 500 million people worldwide was infected and 50-100 million, or 3-5% of the world’s population at the time, died.
50,000 people died in Canada, 300,000 people died in Brazil, including President Rodrigues Alves. 250,000 people died in England, 400,000 people died in France. In India, the number of victims reached 17 million, accounting for about 5% of the population.
In the US, 28% of the population was infected and 675,000 died. There were aboriginal American villages wiped out. The New York Health Commission required people to report all flu infection cases and that patients had to be isolated at home or in a hospital. Philadelphia required schools, churches, and theaters to close. Chicago also closed many public places and banned the gathering of crowds. San Francisco recommended all residents to wear masks when going out.
Among the victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic was Austrian painter Egon Schiele, French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and New York real estate developer Frederick Trump, the grandfather of the current US President Donald Trump. On May 29, 1918, while walking with his son Fred, Frederick suddenly felt very weak and died the next day at the age of 49.
At the end of 1918, the number of cases suddenly decrease. In Philadelphia, 4,597 people die the week before October 16, 1918, but by November 11, 1918, the Spanish flu almost disappeared from the city. One explanation for this rapid decline was that doctors had done a better job of preventing and treating pneumonia that developed after victims were infected with the virus. However, John Barry, author of a disease book, said the researchers found no evidence to support this.
Another theory was that the 1918 virus transforms quickly into a less dangerous strain. This is a common trend among influenza viruses: They are usually less dangerous after a while, because the carriers of the dangerous strain have died, and the survivors have been immune.