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Spanish Flu. Any historians amongst you?

(44 Posts)
Lizbethann55 Tue 26-May-20 17:44:15

I know about the Spanish Flu obviously. I know when it started, where they think it came from and about the truly catastrophic death toll. But I am struggling to find out about how long it lasted and how/why it stopped. I read somewhere that it affected mostly younger people (but that may be because there were no "older" people). And while I was trying to find answers I think I found something about how the virus kept mutating and finally mutated itself to a point where it was harmless. But that sounds very far fetched to me and, as I can't find the article again and it was late at night, I am wondering if I imagined it. Does anyone know what happened to it and if we can take any hope from it.

Fennel Tue 26-May-20 18:02:20

I'm not a historian but have always thought that the 1918 flu epidemic spread so quickly and so far because of the general weakness in health of the world population after WW1.
Your point about the virus reaching it's ability to mutate - I think I read that somewhere too. I hope and pray that it's correct.
There is a prediction now that the current virus will return but in decreasing peaks. Sorry can't give a link - one of the many online sources.

SueDonim Tue 26-May-20 20:31:53

From what I’ve read of that pandemic, it had three or possibly four waves, the deadliest being the second, as it had mutated. They think the reason that the seemingly fit and healthy age group was most affected is because children were generally less prone to catching it and older people had a degree of immunity conferred by the Russian Flu of the 1880’s.

This is an interesting website about the Spanish flu.

Deedaa Tue 26-May-20 20:33:40

The other theory about some viruses is that they become too effective and kill their victims so quickly that they don't have time to infect anyone else and the epidemic stops.

Dee1012 Wed 27-May-20 10:10:56

There's an excellent documentary on IPlayer (BBC) called "The flu that killed 50 million", I think it's still available.

glammanana Wed 27-May-20 10:19:48

I don't know too much about the Spanish Flu Epidemic but I was watching a program about the crippling Fog of 1952 and the deaths caused and the lack of medical help available under the then PM Sir Winston Churchill.

Chestnut Wed 27-May-20 11:10:53

There have been two programmes about the Spanish Flu on American channels (Smithsonian I think). One was beautifully made and featured old folk who were there and remembered it! The programme must have been made about 20 years ago or more. The 'flu disappeared very suddenly and maybe herd immunity had something to do with it. It swept through the community at a rate of knots, so within a short space of time everyone had either died or survived I suppose. People could be dead within 24 hours of first showing symptoms. Very different from coronavirus.

25Avalon Wed 27-May-20 11:23:41

2 books: “Pandemic 1918” by Catherine Arnold and “The Pandemic Century” by Dr. Mark Honigsbaum are interesting.
Britain’s Senior Medical officer kept it quiet and encouraged people to go back to work. Keep calm he said as his thoughts weremoreoftheeconomy than public health.

25Avalon Wed 27-May-20 11:24:07

Were more of the economy

Teetime Wed 27-May-20 11:59:44

My grandmother died of the 'flu epidemic/pandemic in the 1960s- she was only ill for a few days - she was 64.

pinkquartz Wed 27-May-20 12:30:05

I read that the 1918 flu pandemic was one that took out healthy people first, because it was too strong and killed it's hosts.
It carried on for 2 years before dying out itself.
It did also kill off people worn out from the Great War.
There was a comparison of two American cities, one I think it was Seattle had a lockdown in place quite soon and the other one I think it was Philidelphia did not lockdown and had a much higher number of death.

Of course it should not be termed the Spanish Flu, it began in America and was brought to Europe by Troops going to fight in the Great War.

janeainsworth Wed 27-May-20 12:47:54

Here’s an article about how Philadelphia got it wrong in 1918 & comparing it with St Louis where the death toll was only 700, compared with the many thousands who lost their lives in Philadelphia after the city decided a big parade could still go ahead

Furret Wed 27-May-20 12:56:05

It didn’t just kill old folks. My grandmother lost her sister, her mother and her 7-month old baby all within a week. They lived in Scotland.

Juliette Wed 27-May-20 13:02:48

Pandemic 1918 is on Radio4 at the moment. Parts one and two can be found on Sounds catch up, part three due this coming Friday.
Interesting to learn how it compares to the current situation.
My great aunt emigrated to Canada in 1915 and died there in November 1918 during the first wave,. She was 23.

SueDonim Wed 27-May-20 14:51:47

My mother’s cousin is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave because she died of Spanish Flu while hospital-nursing sick soldiers who had returned from WW1.sad

Callistemon Wed 27-May-20 15:31:38

The exact origins of Spanish Influenza have not been pinpointed exactly, but more recent research and old evidence indicates that it may well have originated in China, in Shanxi Province in 1917. It was called 'The Winter Sickness' there.

Thousands of Chinese labourers (the Chinese Labour Force) were brought from there to Canada, England and then France to work in 1917 and many became ill, quarantined and were not well cared for.

It was an avian flu of type H1N1.

SueDonim Wed 27-May-20 15:49:47

Sorry, that should have been my mother’s aunt, not cousin. I’m getting the generations mixed up.

Lizbethann55 Wed 27-May-20 16:33:27

Thank you all for your answers and knowledge. I shall try and catch up with the radio programme. I guess in a hundred years time people will be asking about this virus. I wonder what they will say about it.

AGAA4 Wed 27-May-20 16:38:45

I heard that a virus can mutate to become stronger but it usually mutates down and becomes less virulent.

I hope if this is true it soon mutates to be less lethal

Chestnut Wed 27-May-20 16:43:36

What makes coronavirus so difficult is the long incubation period. You can be spreading it for a week or more without even knowing you have it. I thought from the start this would be the biggest challenge, people wandering around spreading it for such a long time.

welbeck Wed 27-May-20 16:53:55

i guess like the present virus, after it has gathered speed and spread, it is difficult to determine where when it started.
i remember seeing an interesting, and rather horrifyingly detailed, programme prob on bbc4 tv, ?last year, which traced some very early outbreaks to an army training camp in ?kansas.
it had been thrown up or expanded quickly to cope with sudden large numbers of conscripts, and arrangements were not at their best. a medical officer noticed a pattern and wanted to delay embarkation to france for those units.
he could see the danger of sending such sick men on crowded ships into dingy dugouts.
how or why it started in that camp, if it did, ??, maybe someone had mingled with a chinese person, see above.
the descriptions of the conditions on the troop ships, from medics' notes made at the time, are truly appalling.
as noted above, it did not start in spain, but it was first reported in their newspapers, as others were subject to war-time censor.

BlueBelle Wed 27-May-20 17:31:35

But we were all alive for the other pandemics Asian flu 1957 and Hong Kong flu 1968 They also killed millions worldwide
I have no memories of them Certainly no fear has stayed in my mind and I was actually living in HK during the second pandemic we certainly didn’t lockdown or get constant news
I wonder why they all seem to start in China (and that doesn’t need answers like eating animals)

Callistemon Wed 27-May-20 17:38:52

But that is the reason so many originate there, because of the wet markets.

These viruses are not, in fact, new. They have infected animals for thousands of years, if not millions. They can then mutate to be transmitted from animal to human, then mutate again so that they can transmit human->human.

slightlyvixed Thu 28-May-20 10:00:42

There's an excellent book 'Pale Rider' by Laura Spinney. I had a copy but it went very early on when I've been putting books outside my house for people to take. It covers both the origins, and effects of the Spanish flu, and how it subsequently affected world events.

Matelda Thu 28-May-20 10:11:50

This is a pandemic, but it isn’t a flu pandemic - how do we know this isn’t going to be more persistent like measles, rubella or chickenpox. Pale Rider is an excellent book with useful explanation of viruses.