Friday, November 7, 2008

Anniversary: 1918 Flu Pandemic

On this day in 1918, the influenza pandemic is noted to have spread to Western Samoa (now Samoa). Flu would kill about 20% of the island nation's population.

The 1918 influenza pandemic ravaged nearly the entire world, killing between 30 and 50 million people, 2-3% of the world's population. Over 600,000 Americans died. Its devastation was comparable to that of the Black Plague. The pandemic was caused by an A strain of the influenza virus, subtype H1N1. The strain was stunningly virulent, killing 2.5% of those infected. Unlike the flu we know today that mostly takes vulnerable victims, the 1918 flu killed young, healthy adults in astonishing numbers. This was likely because the strain generated a profound, aberrant immune response in its victims.

Now that you're sufficiently terrified, here is some information on the flu vaccine and who should get it.

(image credit: only passengers with masks may board Seattle street cars, 1918.