Spanish flu

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The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world's population at the time. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 20 million and 50 million, although estimates range from a conservative 17 million to a possible high of 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.


  • The 1918 flu almost certainly didn’t originate in Spain. One popular theory for how it acquired the “Spanish” name posits that Spain was the only country where you could read about the disease. That’s because Spain remained neutral during World War I, and therefore its newspapers weren’t censoring any information deemed harmful to national morale. The disease was also rampaging through other countries, including France, Germany, Britain, and the United States, but those governments suppressed or downplayed reports on the extent of the damage. Accurate and timely information is vital to combating a pandemic, but still, some countries’ first impulses are to cover up the spread of the disease.
  • A mortality study in 17 cities in the USA during the 1918 influenza pandemic found that the cities which implemented mitigation strategies early on had a delayed, flatter epidemic curve, with a 50% lower peak mortality, and a 20% lower overall mortality. Thus, mitigating policies are of paramount importance to ensure that the burden on the health-care system remains manageable.

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