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100 Years Ago, Nearly 50 Million People Died from Influenza

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Anniversaries don’t always mark happy occasions. Sometimes they remind us of tragedies — and even serve as warnings.

They also urge us to consider our situations and take steps to shore them up when we can. And you know what? Another such anniversary is upon us.

This fall marks the 100 year anniversary of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Epidemic. Flu season has always been an annual time of suffering.

A century ago, though, was different. According to the Detroit Free Press, one particular strain of influenza took a terrifying turn.

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That particular mutation struck quickly, struck wider and struck harder. Some estimates state that 500 million people got infected.

To put that in perspective, that accounted for one-third of the world’s population at the time. And of those who got sick, 50 million perished.

That’s a 10 percent fatality rate for those infected and meant that almost 3.5 percent of those on the globe perished from the illness. “Fatal” hardly begins to describe it.

Why was the Spanish flu (which likely didn’t actually start in Spain) so deadly? Public health scientist Dr. Michael Osterholm told The Journal of the American Medical Association that we don’t exactly know why.

“Let’s be clear that we don’t understand why influenza pandemics do what they do,” he said. “Why are some much more severe than others? …

“I would say that we are much more vulnerable today to a catastrophic influenza pandemic than we were in 1918.” That might sound like an overreaction, but other experts share Osterholm’s concern.

The World Health Organization stated, “Influenza viruses, with the vast silent reservoir in aquatic birds, are impossible to eradicate. With the growth of global travel, a pandemic can spread rapidly globally with little time to prepare a public health response.”

The Centers for Disease Control agreed, saying, “The threat of a future flu pandemic remains. A pandemic flu virus could emerge anywhere and spread globally.”

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So what can we do about it? Osterholm called for the need for more research and the funding to do it, as well as shoring up supply chains so that life-saving medicines can move quickly.

“Look no further than what happened last fall when a Category 5 hurricane hit Puerto Rico, an island where about 80% of IV (intravenous) bag manufacturing worldwide was concentrated,” he said. “When that electrical grid system went down, we saw overnight a major shortage of IV bags around the world.”

While a pandemic is possible, that doesn’t mean that you should live your life in fear. Instead, you can take steps to prevent it, such as practicing proper hygiene and (if you’re willing to) getting a flu shot.

And above all, give thanks. As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, life is a vapor and delighting in it while it lasts is a gift from God.

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
Education
Wheaton College
Location
Florida
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Entertainment, Faith, Travel




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