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Remembering the 1918 Pandemic Flu 100 Years After

Friday, May 18, 2018  
Posted by: Ron Burger
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Remembering the 1918 Pandemic Flu 100 Years After

Ron Burger

One hundred years ago, an influenza (flu) pandemic swept the globe, infecting an estimated one-third of the world’s population, and killing at least 50 million people. At the time, scientists had not yet discovered flu viruses, but we know today that the 1918 pandemic was caused by an influenza A (H1N1) virus.

In 1918, many people got very sick, very quickly. There were reports of some people dying within 24 hours or less. The 1918 flu illness often progressed to organ failure and pneumonia, with pneumonia being the cause of death for most of those who died.  Young adults were hit hard. The average age of those who died during the pandemic was 28 years old!

In 1918, there were no laboratory tests to detect, or characterize flu viruses. There were no vaccines to help prevent flu infection, no antiviral drugs to treat flu illness, and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with flu infections. Available tools to control the spread of flu were largely limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limits on public gatherings, which were used in many cities. Today, we call this social distancing!

The science of influenza has come a long way in 100 years! Developments since the 1918 pandemic include vaccines to help prevent flu, antiviral drugs to treat flu illness, antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia, and a global influenza surveillance system with 114 World Health Organization member states that constantly monitors flu activity. There also is a much better understanding of non-pharmaceutical interventions: such as social distancing, respiratory and cough etiquette, hand hygiene and how these measures help slow the spread of flu.

Four pandemics have occurred in the past century: 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009. However, the 1918 pandemic was the worst of them.  The threat of a future flu pandemic remains. A pandemic flu virus could emerge anywhere, any time and spread globally very quickly.  Although we as a nation are very concerned of intentional threats but many times “Mother Nature” can throw a very serious unintentional event our way! Keep safe and healthy through prevention!