The 1918 Flu Pandemic

The 1918 Flu Pandemic

A Story by Stein

This was paper that I wrote on the Spanish Flu for a chemistry class I took.


The flu pandemic of 1918 is more commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, because it was more known in Spain and claimed more lives there as well. It was by far the most lethal of all viruses at the time killing an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide in just 18 months. This pandemic occurred between the years of 1918 and 1920, just after World War I had ended and was caused by a deadly Influenza A Virus Strain. Unlike most Influenza viruses, this virus attacked victims of a young age (20 to 40 years old), while most others attacked older or elderly victims. The reason it was so devastating is suspected to be caused by cytokine symptoms. A cytokine symptom is when the immune system is fighting pathogens, which are biological agents that cause disease or illness to its host. Cytokines signal immune cells such as T-cells and macrophages to travel to the site of infection. In addition, cytokines activate those cells, stimulating them to produce more cytokines. This loop is commonly kept in check by the body but in some cases the reaction can be uncontrollable and too many immune cells are activated in a single place.


Just to be clear, World War I did not cause the Spanish Flu. The disease managed to spread quicker because of the mass movement of troops and the close quarters. It has been speculated that soldiers that battled in World War I were more susceptible to the virus because they had been weakened by combat. The global mortality rate is not known however it is believed to be anywhere between 2.5% to 5% of the total human population with 20% or more of the human population infected. When looking at a country by country estimates of the death toll 5% of India’s population died, about 17 million. In the United States about 28% of the population was infected and anywhere from 500,000 to 675,000 died. In England it is believed that about 250,000 and about 400,000 people in France died.


One question still remains. What makes the Spanish Flu so different compared to today’s flu’s? One main thing is that in 1918 Influenza viruses were unknown and scientists had no way of testing for it before or after the outbreak had occurred. But the biggest reason that makes the Spanish Flu so much different compared to the flu’s that we deal with today and rarely notice is the simple reason that we have vaccinations for many of today’s flu viruses, compared to the outbreak in 1918 that was unknown. Americans still need to get a new vaccine every fall because the flu mutates and the antigens on the virus’s protein coat change every year.


History of Polio

The first major polio epidemic in the United States occurred in Vermont during the summer of 1894, although it is believed to have affected people dating all the way back to Egyptian times. It wasn’t until 1908 that the polio virus was finally identified by two scientists from Austria thus making polio a reported disease. A major outbreak of polio in the United States occurred in 1916, though it is not believed exactly how many cases there were. It is known however that about 9000 cases were reported in New York City. The most notable American to suffer from polio during the 1930’s was then President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The American government managed to keep President Roosevelt’s paralysis relatively unknown to most of the public though. Roosevelt had contracted polio in 1921. A major outbreak of polio occurred in Los Angeles, California in 1934 and patients were treated for several months. About 2500 cases were treated between May and November of that year. World War II began in 1941 and ended in 1945 with a major outbreak following the end of the war. From 1945 to 1949 and average of about 20,000 cases were reported. It wasn’t until 1955 that a successful polio vaccine had been discovered and by 1957 there had only been 5,600 cases reported in the United States. By 1964 only 121 cases of polio occurred in the US and by 1979 the polio virus was virtually none existent in the United States.



Works Cited


© 2013 Stein

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Added on June 23, 2013
Last Updated on June 23, 2013
Tags: Flu, chemistry, spanish flu, flu pandemic of 1918



Pittsburgh, PA

I am a father and a 2009 graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Mass Media Arts, Journalism and Communication Studies more..