The Spanish Flu is an influenza that attacks the respiratory system, similar to COVID. The virus can be transmitted through the air or by touching the nose, mouth or eyes after being exposed to an infected surface.
The flu began in 1918 near the end of World War I. Despite the name, it did not originate in Spain. During the war, Spain was neutral, which led to the responsibility of reporting much of what was occurring around the world. This made Spain look accountable, which led to the title: Spanish Flu.
While the exact origin of this virus is still unknown, the first confirmed case was reported from Fort Riley, Kansas on March 11, 1918. It is believed that a portion of the transmission, especially in the beginning stages of the virus, was due to soldiers crossing overseas on compressed ships and spreading it in other countries where they lived in poor conditions. These soldiers then brought the virus home to their friends and families where it continued to be spread and became detrimental.
The first wave of the flu resulted in symptoms such as a fever, chill, fatigue and typically a speedy recovery. However the second wave, which was much more contagious, turned skin blue and filled lungs with fluid leading to suffocation. The number of deaths spiked resulting in an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide without any scientific knowledge of what made it so deadly. Finally in 2008, according to history.com, researchers identified the fatal factors of the virus: “a group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia.”
Similar to COVID, different cities handled the virus in different ways. Some, such as Philadelphia, continued with events and gatherings, which caused the flu to spread to people much faster. This led to higher mortality rates in those places. Other cities chose an alternate route by closing businesses and schools, banning public gatherings and putting mask mandates into effect. Some cities even fined people who didn’t follow this precaution. The flu eventually ended in the summer of 1919 after either built up immunity or from the millions of deaths.
By using information from the 1918 Spanish Flu, scientists and officials today are able to learn more about safety measures and precautions that may help decrease COVID cases, despite the lack of information known.