Swine Flu & Spanish Flu in Perspective

Duncan MacDonald     
Jakarta   11 June 2009       
Reviewed   12  January  2022      
WORLD Health Organisation in Geneva moved the Influenza A, TV News flu - Dave GranlundH1N1Swine Flu, up to its highest level phase 6, which indicates a world Pandemic.[ 1 ]   The reason given is the large increase in reported cases in Australia and Chile.   The elevation to Pandemic status does not indicate the severity of the strain, merely the geographic spread.

At this stage there have been 27,737 cases reported world-wide with 141 deaths (as at 10 June 2009). Leading the pack is the USA with 13,217 cases (27 deaths); Mexico 5,717 cases (106 deaths); Canada 2,446 cases (4 deaths); Chile 1,694 cases (2 deaths); Australia 1,224 cases (no deaths); UK 666 cases (no deaths). Indonesia has no reported cases.[ 2 ]

The media is having a field day – 106 deaths in Mexico and 27 deaths in USA. The sky is falling - shades of 1918 Spanish Flu.
Beach couple with face masks
What about a little perspective
Every year approximately 37,000 Americans die as a result of complications caused by the seasonal flu [ 3 ]
  – and we are getting our knickers in a knot because world-wide 141 people have died.

Countries such as Indonesia and Australia are stockpiling large quantities of Tamiflu, in case the Swine Flu mutates and starts killing large numbers. According to the WHO that might just be a public relations exercise.

When asked: "Will the currently available seasonal vaccine provide protection against influenza A (H1N1)?" their answer was "The best scientific evidence currently suggests that they will offer little or no protection." [ 4 ]   In short – No.

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  If you want to look at the numbers try this:
  Indonesia (luckily) had no cases so far of H1N1 Swine Flu. But it has had the highest number of Avian Flu Indonesian girls flu masks(H5N1) fatalities over the past 5 years – 126 deaths.[ 5 ]   However Indonesia has the 3rd highest death rate from Tuberculosis, 150,000 a year! [ 6 ]   Apparently TB is not newsworthy enough. What is even sadder - TB is curable – nobody today should die from TB.

Of course what has whetted the media's appetite is the potential for Swine Flu (H1N1) to mutate into something like the 1918 Spanish Flu (also H1N1), which killed between 50 and 100 million people in 1918-19.

  The 1918 Spanish Flu killed more people in 25 weeks than:
     Black Death (Bubonic Plague) in 4 Years   1347 – 1351 CE
     The total number of people killed in the 5 Years of World War I   1914 – 1918
     The total number of people who died from HIV AIDS in the last  25 Years [ 7 ]

Why was it called "Spanish Flu"?
Spain did have one of the earliest outbreaks with some 8 million people inf ected by May 1918, and King Alfonso XIII of Spain was one of the early victims. However Spain was not involved in World War I and had no wartime censorship. It was the first to report the epidemic.

The belligerents suppressed news of the outbreak so the enemy would not find out that substantial numbers of their armed forces were incapacitated with the flu. The English called it "only the flu" while the French public health officials referred to it as "the grippe".

Note:    In Spain they called it the " French flu "

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Most deadly for the 20 to 40's
Influenza usually kills the elderly and young children. However the Spanish flu was most deadly for people aged between 20 to 40. This is thought to have occurred because the immune system of the elderly and the young is weakened and cannot easily fight the virus. People aged 20 to 40 are in the prime of life. Their bodies and immune system reacted, or in fact over-reacted to the unknown 1918 virus. This caused the blood vessels in the lungs to burst and death was by drowning in one's own bodily fluids.

Note:    After-the-fact surveys of bloodstream antibodies suggest that 98% of Americans alive in 1918-19 had been infected [ 8 ]

First recorded case
Shortly before breakfast on Monday 11 March 1918, Company Cook WW1 France Albert Gitchell reported sick to the infirmary at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas. He complained of a 'bad cold'. Immediately behind him came Corporal Lee W Drake with a similar complaint. By noon, Camp Surgeon Edward R Schreiner had over 100 sick men, suffering the same symptoms. Within five weeks 1,127 people would be infected and 46 would die.

In March 1918 84,000 American "Dough Boys" set out for Europe. They were followed by another 118,000 in April.

Little did they know they were carrying with them a virus more deadly than the rifles they carried. Influenza spreading among men living in close quarters did not alarm health officials at the time.

By May 1918 the killer flu had established itself in America and Europe and was spreading spectacularly. Men on all sides sickened and died. Great Britain reported 31,000 cases in June alone. Numerous cases were reported in Russia, North and South Africa, South American and India.

The Pacific Ocean provided no protection as the influenza spread to parts of China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Please go to our earlier article for more details and some of the main characters involved with the   >>1918 Spanish Flu

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The Spanish flu was unusual in killing mostly young and healthy adults. Many would be struck down suddenly and within hours be rendered too feeble to walk. Many would die the next day.
WWW1 ambulance
Some 200,000 were killed in Britain and more than 400,000 in France. Statistics for Germany are unavailable but it has been suggested that its surrender before any troops entered its borders may have been influenced by the high number of its army incapacitated by influenza.

An estimated 17 million died in India alone. In the Indian army almost 22% of the troops who caught it died. This can be compared with the global mortality rate of between 2.5% and 5%.

At some point in late 1919 on a day lost to history, Spanish Flu made one final human being ill - then mutated again and disappeared

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Coronary Heart DiseaseNext

Swine Flu


What about a little perspective

If you want to look at the numbers try this

Why was it called "Spanish Flu"?

Most deadly for the 20 to 40's

First recorded case





[ 1 ] BBC News / Health 11-Jun-2009

[ 2 ] World Health Organisation Influenza A (H1N1) - update #46
10-Jun-2009 06:00 GMT

[ 3 ] CDC influenza statistics

[ 4 ] Jakarta Post 25-May-2009

[ 5 ] Asia Pulse / Antara News

[ 6 ] www.stanford.edu/group/virus Feb-2005 - beginning Sept 1918

[ 7 ] www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/ influenza

[ 8 ] dMAC Health Digest, 1918 Spanish Flu 30-Oct-2006