Tennessee Drifter

Random Thoughts at Random Times

1918 Spanish Flu and Today

I’m doing some reading on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 in an effort to better understand our current situation. Some of the information I have found include:

1. The Spanish Flu did not originate in Spain. It was an H1N1 flu, likely originating in China. Today we call the H1N1 “swine flu” because it is a flu that made the jump from pigs to humans. The 2009 swine flu was also H1N1. I think that if historically many illnesses come from China then we need to re-think about our interactions with that country.

2. People called it Spanish Flu because world-wide perception was that the Spanish suffered the worst outbreak. However, the flu corresponded with WWI and the Allied countries controlled (censored) news reports about the flu to keep the focus on the war effort and to keep morale up. Spain was neutral in WWI and had a free and independent press and was not motivated to censor the information.

3. The first reported incident of the Spanish Flu in the US occurred at Ft Riley Kansas with a soldier. The spread of the Spanish Flu was likely exacerbated by the world wide movement of troops fighting the war. In 1918, international travel was by ship and train, which put more people in closer contact for longer periods of time. Malnutrition and poor hygiene likely also played significant factors.

4. We have been hearing that the current pandemic (COVID-19) has the potential to be worst than the Spanish Flu. The exact number of Spanish Flu deaths in the US are not known, but in my reading, the most commonly accepted number is 675,000 deaths. Record keeping in 1918 was not what it is today, no one knows how many Americans were affected, but many sources put the number at 35 million. I am looking at these numbers to evaluate and better understand our current situation.

5. In the material I’ve read, mask were not as effective as initially thought. The spread was worst in urban areas, and was seen least in more rural areas. Restricting the movement of people, and limitations on international travel seem to be more important considerations. Maintaining a distance between people seem to have a greater impact on the spread.

I’m not sold on the face mask approach, I fear that is a solution that puts the issue in our face (no pun intended) every day because government doesn’t have a better solution and they have to be seen doing something. Wear your mask, wash your hands.

Maintaining distance with others does seem to be the better approach, but today, fewer of us grow or raise our own food source, so we still have to interact with others so that we can meet our basic needs. I am experimenting with growing some food, but I have no livestock to slaughter…and I’m not going to be a vegetarian anytime soon. I’m lucky, my wife and I live in a rural area, on an acre of land. We can get outside and not have to worry about interacting with others…but people in urban areas, living in apartment buildings are not so lucky.

Online shopping and delivery services are making it easier to get what we need with limited personal interaction, but it is in many cases more expensive when we have to factor in delivery cost.

This is information that I have gathered in my reading on the subject…it is important that we all try to understand the hazards we face, do our own research, and then behave in a manner that best protects our family, our friends and neighbors and the greater community. The sooner this ends, the better off we will all be.

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About Me

An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration.


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