This Flu Strain Killed Almost 50 Million People

What made the flu of 1918 so deadly?

The flu virus. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
The flu virus. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
UIG via Getty Images

The flu of 1918 wasn’t the first or last flu pandemic the world has seen, but it has been the deadliest. A BBC feature reports that between 40 to 50 million people died during the horrific outbreak.

In more modern times the world’s citizens have played host to the Asian flu in the 1950s and the Hong Kong flu in 1968 — both of which saw a combined death toll of less than 3 million lives loss. That’s but a fraction of the flu of 1918.

Doctors in 1918 had only recently discovered the existence of viruses, so they were a long way away from viral medications and vaccines that could have prevented the catastrophic event. It wasn’t until antibiotics like penicillin were discovered in the late 1920s that secondary illnesses caused by the flu could be treated.

Other factors that made the flu of 1918 so deadly include filthy WWI trenches, illiteracy among the poor, cramped living conditions, and the rapid replication and virulence of the virus.

“Our healthcare infrastructure and diagnostic and therapeutic tools are so much more advanced,” Jessica Belser, a worker at the influenza division of the US CDC, told the BBC.

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