Coronavirus is not the first global pandemic and, by some accounts, today is the anniversary of the start of one of the very worst

It was called Spanish flu, but it did not start in Spain and we are still not sure where it originated. So-called Spanish flu was an influenza pandemic which ran from around January 1918 – December 1920. It was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic which was the first of the two involving the H1N1 virus, with the second being swine flu in 2009.

Why was it called Spanish flu?

To maintain morale, censors of the First World War minimised early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII) and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, giving rise to the pandemic’s nickname, “Spanish flu”.

 So where did it start?

We’re not sure. There are many hypotheses about the source. One recent suggestion is that it originated in January 1918 in the military facility of Fort Riley, Kansas, USA. By 11 March 1918, exactly 102 years ago today – the virus had reached New York and the epidemic was on the run.

How many died in this pandemic?

We don’t know.  It infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the then world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion,. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. 

You can learn more here.


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