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A Look Back at the 1918 Spanish Flu

As the world is striving hard to come out of the Corona virus pandemic, let’s take a look at similar flu that took the lives of nearly 50 million people back in 1918.

As the world is striving hard to come out of the Coronavirus pandemic, let’s take a look at similar flu that took the lives of nearly 50 million people back in 1918.

Though it is unclear where the infection originated, a false notion at that time gave rise to the name Spanish flu. This influenza was as deadly as the recent COVID-19. More than 500 million cases around the globe were reported to have been infected by the H1N1 virus strain.

People between the age group 18-145 were the most affected by this infection. Just like Corona, the Spanish flu was a respiratory virus that spread from person to person. Cough, sneezing, and breathlessness were the symptoms accompanied by a severe fever.

The scenario back then was the same as today where nurses and healthcare workers wore masks while treating the patients infected with the virus. This life-threatening pandemic finally came to an end in 1919, one year after it originated.

The below visual-graph shows the actual impact of the Spanish flu and it highlights that the pandemic had very little impact on older people. While the life expectancy at birth and at young ages declined by more than ten years, the life expectancy of 60- and 70-year olds saw no change. This is at odds with what we would expect: older populations tend to be most vulnerable to influenza outbreaks and respiratory infections. If we look at mortality for both lower respiratory infections (pneumonia) and upper respiratory infections today, death rates are highest for those who are 70 years and older.

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