Why Did the Spanish Flu Kill More People Than World War I?
Why Did the Spanish Flu Kill More People Than World War I? 1918 marked the inception of a global pandemic that would go on to devastate the entire world, with the Spanish flu claiming more lives than World War I itself. Although estimates range widely, the Spanish flu killed anywhere between 20 and 100 million people, with the Centre for Disease Control estimating that at least 50 million people died worldwide; compared to approximately 17 million people dying in the First World War.
The insanely high death toll from the 1918 pandemic begs the obvious question: why did the Spanish flu become so lethal? The 1918 influenza pandemic is often referred to as the ‘Spanish’ flu because the press of neutral Spain was the first to report on the pandemic. It was caused by a virus which spread from person to person through the respiratory tract, with a high percentage of deaths resulting from bacterial pneumonia caused by a secondary infection of the lungs, which had been debilitated by the virus.
The variables which explain why the Spanish flu became so lethal are multi-faceted. One key reason was that the Great War created an environment that was highly conducive to the rapid spread of viruses. In 1918, there was a vast movement of people and goods - both within countries, and across the globe – which created a perfect network of human carriers for the virus to quickly travel.
The prioritization of war over adopting preventative measures is another reason why the Spanish influenza became so deadly. Aside from the war however, there were other important reasons why the influenza claimed so many. One reason pertained to there being a critical lack of medical knowledge concerning the causative agent of the virus, and the subsequent absence of an effective treatment. Even though the Spanish flu killed more people than the First World War did directly, the two events are inextricably intertwined, as the Great War provided the springboard for the influenza to become so deadly.
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