The scourges of humanity – part 16: Spanish flu – Regensburger Nachrichten

Ever since mankind settled down, they have castigated civilization: infectious diseases. All of these plagues should not only remind us of what the unhindered spread of a new virus can do, but should also remind us of the value of vaccination to modern civilization. Every Saturday in our series we introduce you to an infectious disease – today: Spanish flu. The appearance of the coronavirus SARSCoV-2 has not only thrown the crown of creation back on its fundamental vulnerability, rather the lack of an effective drug or vaccine against COVID-19 creates conditions similar to those that prevailed over 100 years ago, when infectious diseases could infect the population unhindered . We have compiled an encyclopedia of the most feared infectious diseases in human history and we present one to you every Saturday. Read more about the Spanish flu today.

Spanish flu (Influenza A virus H1N1)

The Spanish flu from 1918 to 1920 represents the worst influenza pandemic in history with around 50 million deaths worldwide and in 2006 was even referred to as the “mother of the pandemics”. It broke out in a US military camp towards the end of the First World War. With troop transfers, the influenza virus subtype A / H1N1 spread across the globe. The flu got its name from the numerous reports in Spain of a severe flu outbreak in Spain, while in other countries it was not reported at all, despite thousands of deaths. The virus swept across the globe in three waves and reduced the world population at the time by around 2.8 percent. It is estimated that 500 million people have contracted the virus – the world population at that time was around 1.8 billion people.

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Shortly after infection, as with any real flu, there is a high fever of up to 41 degrees with severe shivering, sweating, muscle, limb and headache as well as fatigue and painful cough. An influenza infection usually becomes fatal through pneumonia caused by a subsequent pneumococcal infection. Other complications such as skeletal, heart muscle or encephalitis can also lead to death. The uniqueness of the 1918 Spanish flu was that it was mostly healthy adults aged 20 to 40 who succumbed to it. This age group accounts for almost 50 percent of the pandemic victims. “Conventional” influenza viruses usually endanger people with naive or weaker immune systems such as children and the elderly.


There was no successful medication against the Spanish flu. Today, influenza can be treated with antiviral drugs that curb the replication of the virus, shorten the phase of the disease and reduce its severity. For effective treatment, the medication must be given shortly after the onset of the disease. There is an annually adapted vaccine against influenza, but it only protects against seasonal virus types.


Regionally different. Depending on the supply situation between 0.7 and 6 percent. In the absence of basic immunity, significantly higher. In Samoa, for example, one fifth of the population died from the Spanish flu. The mortality of a normal influenza pandemic is usually between 0.1 and 0.2 percent.


Mutated influenza viruses of subtype A / H1N1 resulted in another pandemic with an estimated 500,000-700,000 deaths (Russian flu) in the winter of 1977/78 and in 2009 for over 157,000 deaths worldwide (swine flu).

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