The Influenza Pandemic

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryIt killed an estimated five percent of the world’s population of the time. An estimated 50 to 100 million people died in one of the worst pandemics in world history. Called the Spanish Flu epidemic, it killed 500,000 Americans and killed more Europeans than died in World War I in the year 1918. >From 1918 to 1920, hundreds of thousands people succumbed every day to a strain of influenza not seen before. What made it especially deadly was that it attacked and killed the healthiest segment of the population—those in their twenties and those most able bodied. Although wartime censors in Europe and the United States tried to keep the truth about how many soldiers were killed by this influenza, the Spanish Flu in fact killed more soldiers in 1918 than died in the war (after the war, the truth would become known to the general public that many of their loved ones on the battlefield died of the Spanish Flu). Only in Spain were journalists able to record the death rate without wartime censorship because Spain was neutral during World War I (hence the name “Spanish Flu”).

What kind of strain of influenza was it? That is still being argued today 100 years after the fact. Would penicillin have been able to stop this flu strain if penicillin was discovered over 20 years before? We will probably never know the answer. What we do know is that this influenza killed within a matters of days, filled the victims’ lungs with blue fluid that basically drowned them in their own lungs. The next question is could this happen again? Possible. The problem is that there are growing strains of flu which have become resistant to antibiotics. This means that dealing with new strains of flu might prove harder. What happened over 100 years ago is a cautionary tale of the possibility that while we may be far more advanced in terms of medicine than we were then, it is still possible that some virus could come about that might baffle science.

Comments are closed.