Flu Epidemic of 1918

With the outbreak of the coronavirus, life as we know it has shut down.  Immediately, I am reminded of the Flu Epidemic of 1918, which I spent much of last year researching and incorporating as a major plot twist in a novel.

So, what do we know about the flu epidemic?

King Alfonso XIII of Spain

The influenza pandemic came in three waves in 1918 and is also referred to as the Spanish flu.  The term Spanish flu originated when Spain became one of the earliest countries identified with the epidemic. Spain was a neutral country during the war and did not censor its press.  Leading many historians to believe the flu was already rampant in other areas of Europe, where World War I {or The Great War} was underway. Many falsely believed the virus began in Spain, earning it the name Spanish flu.  King Alfonso XIII, of Spain, became struck by the illness.  He survived but became a leading politician and figure to put a face to the disease.

“Even in late Spring 1918, a Spanish news service sent word to Reuters’ London office informing the news agency that “a strange form of disease of epidemic character has appeared in Madrid. The epidemic is of a mild nature, no deaths having been reported,” according to Henry Davies’ book “The Spanish Flu,”. Within two weeks of the report, more than 100,000 people had become infected with the flu.”

The virus rapidly spread throughout the United Kingdom and soon other countries and areas.

The flu epidemic caused an extensive number of casualties among the very young and very old.  However, most of the victims were young adults between the ages of 20-40. Pregnant women were the most vulnerable with 26% losing a child.  

In the pre-radio and pre-TV days, newspapers minimized early reports of the outbreak throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States.

So what caused the influenza?

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