The 1918 Influenza Epidemic Essay

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What would later become one of the deadliest plagues the world had ever seen started innocuously enough in the spring of 1918 spreading through populations on both sides of the Atlantic. Remarkable for its highly infectious nature, the spring strain was relatively non-lethal, rarely killing infected individuals (Kolata, 1999). Thus little more than average attention was paid to the precursor of a virus that would eventually kill between twenty-one and one-hundred million individuals worldwide (Barry, 2004). Only after the fall wave of the 1918 influenza did it become a requirement to report cases of influenza thus information on this first wave is sporadic at best (Kolata, 1999). I will argue that the nature of this missing data combined…show more content…
10). Although it produced an intense fever and headache the worse of the symptoms often subsided within three to four days. The second wave was not nearly as kind. Upon visiting Camp Devins, William Welch, founder of Johns Hopkins Medical School was greeted by a grisly sight, “Blood was everywhere…pouring out of some men’s nostrils and even ears while others coughed it up. Many of the soldiers, boys in their teens, men in their twenties – healthy, normally ruddy men – were turning blue (Barry, 2004, p. 189).” Something had happened to take the ordinary, relatively benevolent seasonal flu and turn it into a killer. Of all the present theories to account for this remarkable transformation the most credible is that of viral adaptation (Barry, 2004). This theory states that when moving between species a virus is briefly less efficient in its new host species than the old due to differences in internal biochemistry. This makes the virus less virulent. Thus those most affected by the weakened virus will be those with weakened immune systems. As the virus adapts to its new host species it becomes steadily more deadly until it reaches an upper limit where it is killing off its hosts too rapidly so that the most virulent strains cannot spread.
The Spanish flu was unusual in a number of respects but one of the most notable was

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