One way or another, but viruses and subsequent epidemics have always accompanied humanity throughout the history of its existence. One of these massive epidemics, the most global and deadly, was the Spanish flu that occurred in the period from 18 to 20 of the twentieth century. According to Flores (2018), “throughout the world, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic infected one-third of all humans and claimed an estimated 50 to 100 million lives” (p. 254).
Also, this historical event influenced not only the development of medicine in general and virology in particular but too many political, social, and anthropological processes. The study of such problems is relevant for current generations because dangerous epidemiological diseases continue to appear, albeit with a frequency of once a decade, which at present is a coronavirus. The purpose of this paper is to prove that the Spanish flu epidemic is just as crucial a turning point of the 20th century as both the Great War and World War II.
Nature and Chronology of Spanish Flu
First of all, it is necessary to explain how the disease appeared, what contributed to its spread, and how the chronology of the epidemic proceeded. The ancient Greeks considered the cause of influenza an imbalance of natural components inside the human body, and medieval people thought it was God’s wrath for committed sins. But the public of the early 20th century already discovered the existence of bacteria; however, about 15 years remained before the detection of viruses (Spinney, 2017).
According to Tsoucalas, Kousoulis, and Sgantzos (2016), “during new experiments upon the old virus strain, it was proved that the 1918 pandemic was caused by an influenza A – subtype H1N1 progenitor strain” (p. 23). The first multiple cases of the presence of symptoms of the disease were noted in the military in the United States, namely in preparatory military camps in Kansas (Spinney, 2017). After the United States entered World War I and Allied forces landed in France, Spanish flu spread throughout Europe.
Scientists later found out that the global epidemic occurred in three main stages, separated by the principle of a virus mutation. The most dangerous and deadly was the second wave of infection. Another feature of the virus was that the most susceptible to disease were groups of young and middle-aged people (Tsoucalas, Kousoulis, and Sgantzos, 2016). Widespread and high mortality are also due to a lack of medics, as most doctors were on the battlefields of the First World War. Even then, many scientists and media personalities declared the event to be the most significant medical disaster of Western civilization.
Tsoucalas, Kousoulis, and Sgantzos (2016) note, “this pandemic had been described as “the greatest medical holocaust in history” and may have killed more people than the Black Death, caused by the bubonic plague” (p. 26). The most affected regions, besides Europe and North America, were also South Africa, India, and Japan. It remains unresponsive, which has had the most devastating effect, the Spanish flu, or the events of the First World War.
Scientific, Political, and Social Consequences
It was the events of the Spanish flu epidemic that contributed to the comprehensive development of bacteriological and virology, as well as the mass production of vaccines. The virus turned out to be the driver that changed the healthcare paradigm from the traditional public health approach to biomedical methodology (Schwartz, 2018). It was also a major factor in the ending of the Great War. The Spanish flu has affected famous people, poets, and politicians, in particular, Woodrow Wilson (Johnson, 2018). High mortality led to a minimizing of military contingents in Great Britain’s colonies, which led to increased liberation movements in India and South Africa.
Many who have had the Spanish flu have remained with a chronic form of the disease. The infection affected the next generations, as it later turned out that the fetus was infected with a weakened virus, which led to weak health and the permanent presence of minor symptoms (Johnson, 2018). The exact number of victims of the epidemic remains unknown, but the international community has the historical experience and knows what tragic consequences could drive the neglect of medical safety measures.
This work explores the historical and anthropological consequences of the tragic and devastating events of the Spanish flu epidemic that took place in the second decade of the 20th century. The sources of the disease, namely the influenza A virus, and the estimated number of deaths due to infection of about 70 million, were explained. The pathways of the spread of the disease caused by the participation of Allied forces and the history of the epidemic, which is characterized by three deadly waves, were also described. The Spanish flu epidemic is equally a turning point in global history as the Great War and World War II because it deeply touched all aspects of all people’s lives. This is noticeable from political changes in countries far from the western enclave to anthropological consequences for many Europeans.
Flores, J. (2018). Pale rider: The Spanish flu of 1918 and how it changed the world, by Laura Spinney [Review of the book Pale rider: The Spanish flu of 1918 and how it changed the world, by L. Spinney]. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 31(2), 254.
Johnson, N. A. (2018). The 1918 flu pandemic and its aftermath [Review of the book Pale rider: The Spanish flu of 1918 and how it changed the world, by L. Spinney]. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 11(5), 1-3.
Schwartz, J. L. (2018). The Spanish flu, epidemics, and the turn to biomedical responses. American Journal of Public Health, 108(11), 1455-1458.
Spinney, L. (2017). Pale rider: The Spanish flu of 1918 and how it changed the world. Random House.
Tsoucalas, G., Kousoulis, A., & Sgantzos, M. (2016). The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the origins of the H1N1-virus strain, a glance in history. European Journal of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, 2(4), 23-28.