Note : The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections questioned this entry: why was I writing it?  They accepted my answer it was not scandalous, or used the word ‘rubbish. This seemed to confuse but satisfy them there was nothing outrageous therein. 

I’ve always been interested in medical history, particularly epidemics. Not only do I find the scientific aspects interesting but I am also intrigued with the sociology and psychology of each scourge. Like a stencil, people’s response to a plague goes through predictable stages; all our scientific advancement and alleged sophistication does not alter it.  What differs – and what I find fascinating – is each epidemic’s quirks.


I recently finished a course on the history of WWI, which included a lecture on The Spanish Flu of 1918. Influenza is a fascinating tale*.  What makes it even more curious as plagues go it isn’t much remembered. It did not get into our collective memory, as did “The Great Mortality” (commonly called The Black Death of 1348).


It killed maybe ~ 5% of the world’s population hitting everywhere, not just Europe.  It killed more people in one year than The Black Death did in a decade; in 24 months it killed more people than AIDS killed in 24 years.  That’s pretty amazing.  It mostly killed ‘young healthy people’ rather than the elderly, the typical victims of viruses. Yet it doesn’t rouse emotions.  The 1918 influenza had bad timing – and bad PR. People were focused rather on the end of WWI and what that entailed.  Governments all over the world curtailed public information about it, lest people panic**.  The deaths of young people were already ‘old hat’ after four years of WWI. The announcements of flu victims were often listed with the war dead, leading to confusion as to cause of death.  Then, the virus pooped out, and it didn’t emerge again.

It’s too bad it didn’t get into our memories, for every year we play dodge ball with the next round of flu. People now feel having flu can’t be all that bad. Thanks to the internet, conspiracy folks have prevailed into the belief flu shots are at least useless and at most evil, a racket between government and pharmaceutical industry.  It’s just a matter of time when we get something like 1918.  Worse, we won’t react any saner or different than our predecessors.


*To me, anyway.

**Except in Spain, where the actual numbers of cases were not hidden, so it looked like there were more fatalities in Spain. Thus the name “Spanish Flu”.  It is another example of no good deed going unpunished.