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Influenza pandemic of 1918

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The Influenza pandemic of 1918 was a heavy pandemic of influenza. It lasted from January 1918 to December 1920.[1] About 500 million[2] people were infected across the world. The pandemic spread to remote Pacific islands and the Arctic. It killed 50[3] to 100 million people—3 to 5 percent of the world's population[4] at the time.This means it was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.[2][5][6][7] To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States;[8][9] but papers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII). This situaton created the false impression of Spain being especially hard hit.[10] It also resulted in the nickname Spanish flu.[11]

In most cases, influenza outbreaks kill young people, or the elderly, or those patients that are already weakened. This was not the case for the 1918 pandemic, which killed predominantly healthy young adults. Modern research, using virus taken from the bodies of frozen victims, has concluded that the virus kills through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body's immune system). The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.[12]

Historical and epidemiological data are insufficient to identify the pandemic's geographic origin.[2] The pandemic was implicated in the outbreak of encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s.[13]



  1. Institut Pasteur. La Grippe Espagnole de 1918 (Powerpoint presentation in French).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Taubenberger, Jeffery K.; Morens, David M. (January 2006). "1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. doi:10.3201/eid1201.050979 . Archived from the original on 1 October 2009. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  3. Knobler S, Mack A, Mahmoud A, Lemon S, ed. "1: The Story of Influenza". The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready? Workshop Summary (2005). Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. pp. 60–61.
  4. "Historical Estimates of World Population". Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  5. Patterson, KD; Pyle GF (Spring 1991). "The geography and mortality of the 1918 influenza pandemic". Bull Hist Med. 65 (1): 4–21. PMID 2021692 .
  6. Billings, Molly. "The 1918 Influenza Pandemic". Virology at Stanford University. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2009.
  7. Johnson NP, Mueller J (2002). "Updating the accounts: global mortality of the 1918–1920 "Spanish" influenza pandemic". Bull Hist Med 76 (1): 105–15. doi:10.1353/bhm.2002.0022 . PMID 11875246 .
  8. Valentine, Vikki (20 February 2006). "Origins of the 1918 Pandemic: The Case for France". NPR. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  9. Anderson, Susan (29 August 2006). "Analysis of Spanish flu cases in 1918–1920 suggests transfusions might help in bird flu pandemic". American College of Physicians. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  10. Barry, John M. (2004). The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History. Viking Penguin. p. 171. ISBN 0-670-89473-7 .
  11. Galvin, John (31 July 2007). "Spanish Flu Pandemic: 1918". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  12. Barry 2004[page needed]
  13. Vilensky JA, Foley P, Gilman S (August 2007). "Children and encephalitis lethargica: a historical". Pediatr. Neurol. 37 (2): 79–84. doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2007.04.012 . PMID 17675021 .