While the exact origins of the flu are unknown, it is clear that this virus has been giving humans a run for their money for centuries. The first recorded influenza pandemic occurred in 1510, and several outbreaks have occurred since then.
The flu is notoriously difficult to contain, as it easily spreads through coughing and sneezing. What’s more, the flu virus is constantly changing, making it difficult for our immune systems to keep up. As a result, influenza pandemics can cause widespread illness. While these flu pandemics are often considered mild compared to other major diseases, they can occasionally be very deadly, as was the case with the 1918 Spanish flu.
The 1918 Flu Pandemic
It’s no secret that the Spanish Flu of 1918 was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. But what is less well known is where precisely this deadly disease originated. Contrary to its name, the Spanish Flu did not start in Spain, but because the Spanish government was one of the first to admit that a new and strange disease had emerged in their country, the flu gained the name Spanish Flu. So, where did it come from?
There are three prevailing theories. The first is that it may have started in the United States among soldiers at Camp Funston, Kansas, at the beginning of March 1918, and the soldiers brought it with them across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. The second theory is that Spanish influenza may have originated in the Guangdong province in Southern China and that Chinese laborers brought it to the United States and later to Europe. The third view on the origin is that it may have started among soldiers on the western front during the winter of 1916 or 1917, independently of any diffusion of influenza from China or the United States.
No matter which of these theories is true, one thing is certain: the Spanish Flu was a global tragedy that resulted in the deaths of 50 million people worldwide, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history. This flu pandemic was particularly deadly because it mainly affected young, healthy adults rather than infants and the elderly, as is typical with other respiratory diseases. Symptoms of the Spanish Flu included high fever, headaches, chest pain, and extreme fatigue. In many cases, patients would develop pneumonia and die within days.
H1N1 or Swine Flu
2009 was a year to remember for many reasons. It was the year Avatar came out, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and Beyoncé released her game-changing album, I Am…Sasha Fierce. Oh, and there was a global financial crisis and a deadly flu pandemic.
The H1N1 virus first surfaced in Mexico in March of 2009, and by June, it had spread to 74 countries worldwide. When the pandemic ended in August 2010, it had killed an estimated 284,000 people, making it the fifth deadliest flu pandemic in history. The CDC estimates that 60.8 million Americans were infected with the virus during the pandemic. While the H1N1 outbreak was eventually brought under control, it serves as a reminder of the devastation influenza can cause.