The Spanish Flu 100 Years and Counting

| November 10, 2018

This link will take you to a full article (not pay-walled) on the Spanish flu pandemic, which may have originated in China as avian or swine flu, but erupted in a virulent way during and after World War I.

From the article: “The impact of this pandemic was not limited to 1918–1919. All influenza A pandemics since that time, and indeed almost all cases of influenza A worldwide (excepting human infections from avian viruses such as H5N1 and H7N7), have been caused by descendants of the 1918 virus, including “drifted” H1N1 viruses and reassorted H2N2 and H3N2 viruses. The latter are composed of key genes from the 1918 virus, updated by subsequently incorporated avian influenza genes that code for novel surface proteins, making the 1918 virus indeed the “mother” of all pandemics.”

Prior to World War I, the causes of influenza were unknown. There were no separate strain names for the various types, such as swine flu or bird flu. Anyone could catch a “congestion of the lungs” and subsequently die of pneumonia after recovering from the “congestion”.  There were no vaccines for it or anything else back then.

The post-war flu pandemic resulted in 50 million to 150 million deaths worldwide, although there was no actual census count. But we had another serious scare in 2006. Remember the bird flu pandemic? The research for the 2006 pandemic had already started at CDC in 1995, with researchers reconstructing the virus’s structure from autopsied materials left over from WWI and the Spanish Flu pandemic.  Shortly after that, the 1997 H5N1 avian influenza A pandemic broke out in Hong Kong. The finding that H1N1’s descendants include swine flu and avian flu RNA resulted in corporations like the one I worked for at the time offering flu and pneumonia vaxes while at work, for a modest fee.

Here’s a 2006 article from American Family Physician regarding the 1997 outbreak and the 2006 pandemic:

The UK had a popular TV series titled “Survivors”, which was about a worldwide pandemic caused by a combined RNA flu vaccine which was supposed to stop the flu, but instead it became as aggressive as the bug in Stephen King’s “The Stand”, which was based on the same idea. Both “bugs” were recombinant shifting antigen viruses constantly seeking new hosts for survival.  In both stories, the surviving populations were sparse, and if the viruses shifted into new hosts such as dogs or cats, humans were doomed.

All I’m saying is, get your flu shot because the swine flu and avian flu viruses mutate and combine at will, always on the search for new hosts so that they can spread.  It’s survival. Oranges and lemons help repel it. Must be something about ascorbic acid, eh? That, and bacon.  And your VA flu shot is free, too.

Let’s just help the flu bugs not survive, because if there were two major episodes of flu in less than 10 years (1997 and 2006), with air transportation the way it is now, it will happen again.

Category: "Your Tax Dollars At Work", Health Care debate, It's science!, Veteran Health Care

Comments (22)

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  1. 5jc says:

    If you are retired on Tricare you can go to Publix and get the flu shot for free and get a $10 gift card for groceries. Your spouse should be able to get one as well if they are not on active duty.

    • HMCS(FMF) ret says:

      Safeway pharmacies also give shots and will give you a coupon for 10% off your groceries (up to $200.00)

  2. AW1Ed says:

    Always hated the mandatory flu shot; made me sick for a couple days. Then I suddenly developed an annual allergy to poultry products. Problem solved!

  3. Mason says:

    Both The Stand and Survivors were great.

    The Spanish Flu Pandemic had to be terrifying. I was reading a story a couple months ago about the outbreak in Boston. It ran rampant through the doughboys and the hospitals were inundated with thousands of sick and dying in a matter of weeks. Just as soon as it began it was done. All inside a month.

  4. Hayabusa says:

    Fun fact: the “Spanish” influenza had nothing to do with Spain. But World War I was in progress, and due to wartime censorship in the belligerent countries, news about the pandemic was suppressed. Spain was neutral, however, so the newspapers were free to report. So people around the world found out about the pandemic from Spanish news reports, and Spain became (unfairly) associated with one of the deadliest disease outbreaks in history.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      No, it was speculated to have originated in China with Chinese laborers bringing it with them to Spain. The “Spanish” adjective came from that. Europe suffered the worst impact, and it went from there.

      • Denise Williams says:


        What Hayabusa is saying is the most commonly understood and reported origin story. According to what is taught in schools today, it originated in the American Midwest in military barracks and was spread by American troops.

        For example, here’s a CDC article that makes that speculation – here. The article also speculates the influenza ~may~ have also impacted Asia ~subsequently~.

        Here’s another by Stanford – here

        A more recent article by National Geographic – here proposes the outbreak began with the importation of Chinese laborers in sealed train cars across Canada by the French and British. But, even in this one it is noted the earliest sample of the virus unearthed from a victim is that of a soldier in Fort Dodge,Iowa in May of 1918.This article also states the only way we will be able to identify the source is to find it in a burial of an earlier victim, like in the bodies of those Chinese laborers, or in the graves in China of some of the victims of the 1917 epidemic that was originally identified as “plague”.

        Your timing for this piece is perfect for me. I’ve been fighting some sort of virus for more than three weeks. I’ve promised myself that as soon as I am able, I will be getting my first-ever flu shot, even if the one offered this year is not the prevalent strain.

  5. 5th/77th FA says:

    If I get the flu shot I get the flu,—bad case. If I don’t get the flu shot, I get the flu,—mild case. I plan on self medicating/self vacinating with orange juice flavored vodka, tequila flavored lemon/lime juice, and bacon sammiches… with cheese..grilled.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Good choices!

    • AW1Ed says:

      Bourbon, honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice in a glass. Nuke for 15 seconds or so, sip and inhale the steamy goodness. It won’t cure ya but you won’t care as much.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Chocolate ice cream, cheesecake, high pulp orange juice, chicken soup made partly of leftover KFC chicken, and oranges. And cheesecake. Did I say cheesecake? Yes, that, too.

      • 11B-Mailclerk says:

        So “feed a fever”


      • Ex-PH2 says:

        Yes: feed a fever and choose your source of sustenance. A big pot of freshly-brewed onion soup, for instance, will not only chase bugs away, but will also provide nourishment and warmth and those toasted bread slices with cheese put on top of the soup, under the broiler for 3 minutes.

        Go easy on aspirin because it can make your GI tract bleed.

        Goofing off in a comfy chair with fave rave videos works well, too. It’s just too bad that Tight Pants Night (Tuesdays) is no longer part of the TV schedule, but I have my own version of that estimable way of spending time.

      • OWB says:

        Only problem is that dairy products encourage the production of mucus in many folks, a substance most of us don’t need more of when we have the flu, a cold, or other respiratory issues. Or so I’ve heard.

  6. 26Limabeans says:

    Got mine last week.
    Had the flu once. It was please kill me bad.
    I saw the images of Jesus and my mom on the wall. I also saw some cartoon characters like Ninja Turtles.
    Flu can do that.
    Get the shot.

  7. 11B-Mailclerk says:

    One of the quirks of the 1918 strain was that it was particularly likely to trigger a badly-excessive immune response, which resulted in the lungs filling with fluid. The healthiest folks tended to be the victims. Hale and hearty men went to bed with headache and maybe a cough, and were corpses by morning.

    Everyone alive is descended from folks that didn’t die of it. It is unlikely ever to match that original strain, although it may be quite severe.

    Parallel is the “Black death”. Once it had killed half of Europe. After that, it was less and less effective. Smallpox in old and new world is another example.

    The next ” big one” will either be something essentially new, or a sufficiently big change to an existing bug to amount to “new”

    If you think of DNA and RNA as the info tech of cells, viruses are the “script kiddies” hacking them.

    Sometimes, they get clever.

  8. mr.sharkman says:

    Re: Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’…

    Really liked the book. Liked nearly all the characters on both sides (Nadine was an angst-ridden b1tch, though).

    But Tom (the retard) was my favorite. I LOVED his version of a prayer. “He gives me Kung Fu in the face of my enemies…’ 😉 Too fvckin’ cool & funny.

    • nobunny says:

      King fans might try 11/22/63. Although, I have to wonder if traditional fans like it, since it isn’t his typical unbelievably-scary-as-sh*t novel. It’s a departure from pure horror into sci-fi. I love the book, though. I read it about once a year.