The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 has been dubbed ‘the mother of all pandemics’; it remains one of the most deadly outbreaks of contagious diseases in human history. It was responsible for about 100 million deaths around the world. The principal factor in the worldwide occurrence was increased travel. Modern transport made it convenient for sailors, soldiers, and civilians to spread the infection.
In August 1918, a virulent strain manifested in France as well as the United states. The allies of the World War 1 came to call it the Spanish flu, chiefly because it got greater attention from the press after it moved from France to Spain. Spain wasn’t caught up in the war and hadn’t forced wartime censorship.
In order to not cause panic, censors reduced reports of the disease and mortality in Germany, France, Britain and the United States; on the other hand, reporters were at liberty to account the epidemic’s effects in nonaligned Spain. Thus, this created a phony notion that Spain was the hard hit and hence, the pandemic’s nickname is Spanish flu.
Signs And Symptoms Of Spanish Influenza
- The disease was characterized by – fever, exhaustion, headache, body pains, and lack of appetite. The intensity of the clinical features is in proportion to the degree of immune activation.
- Respiratory symptoms of Spanish influenza include – sore throat, cough, runny nose, and difficulty while breathing. Similar symptoms are seen with all influenza viruses; however, they are really severe with the Spanish influenza. Autopsy reports reveal intense damage to the lungs with inflammation of the bronchi and alveoli. Furthermore, immense swelling, bleeding and massive obliteration of the surface cell layer of the lungs is seen.
- The chief cause of death during the Spanish influenza pandemic was secondary bacterial pneumonia. Secondary bacterial pneumonia occurs when bacteria attack the airway that has been considerably impaired by the virus.
What Causes Spanish Influenza And How Does It Spread?
When an infected individual coughs or sneezes about half a million viruses (H1N1) spread to those close by. Influenza attacks the respiratory system. The influenza virus is exceedingly infectious; when one who is infected sneezes, talks, or coughs, respiratory droplets get transmitted into the air; these get inhaled by those around. Furthermore, one who touches something with the virus on it and then touches his nose, mouth, or eyes can get infected.
Influenza outbreaks occur every year and tend to differ in intensity, depending upon the type of virus. (The influenza viruses are categorized in to 3 types and they mutate rapidly.) Children, people over 65 years, pregnant women and those having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, are prone to flu-related complications, such as – pneumonia, ear infections, sinusitis and bronchitis.
Influenza pandemic, such as the one in 1918, occurs when a particularly powerful new strain of the influenza virus for which there is no immunity manifests and spreads rapidly around the globe.
The close quarters and huge troop movements of the World War 1 speeded up the deadly disease and possibly both increased the transmission as well as augmented the mutation; the war may also have raised the lethality of the virus. Also, some historians conjecture that the immune systems of the soldiers were weakened by malnourishment and the stress of battle, thus greatly increasing their vulnerability to the virus.