SARS and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Joe Gregorio

For some historical perspective on what a SARS pandemic could be like if it is not contained, the influenza pandemic of 1918 is a good place to start.

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster. [The Influenza Pandemic of 1918]

Yes, you read that correctly, 20,000,000 to 40,000,000 people died from that pandemic. Other pertinent quotes:

The flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40. This pattern of morbidity was unusual for influenza which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children.

The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%.

And yes, 1918 was the year this childs rhyme came on the scene:

    I had a little bird, 
    Its name was Enza. 
    I opened the window, 
    And in-flu-enza. 

Update: I feel kind of odd that this post has become the number one result on google when you search for SARS and pandemic. So, to make this more helpful, if you find any useful links on SARS please leave them in the comments below, and I will update this story as appropriate. Thanks, -joe

Joe, I do see a possible common thread behind the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic and what's going on currently with SARS. I caution you, ahead of time, that the connection is "far out." If you go to the webpage mentioned above, please see "USA Influenza Activity 2002-2003, part 2." It gets into the SARS problem. Bob Fritzius 305 Hillside Drive Starkville, MS 39759

Posted by Bob Fritzius on 2003-04-11

Interestingly, there was a time that any epidemic could have been called "influenza". See:

Posted by Ziv Caspi on 2003-04-23


Posted by Test on 2003-04-23

I lost a great aunt to the influenza of 1918 My Question is this, Could it go into a dormant stage as the weather moderates for the next few months, and we have summer in the U.S.? only to come back this fall with a vengance as it did in 1918. I have read it actually came in two waves during 1918/1919 the second wave being the most deadly by far. Very truly yours Bob Weaver. P.S. Let me know what you all think.

Posted by Bob Weaver on 2003-04-29

Have you all seen this? SARS appears to be "heating up." Mutations of the virus found on Hong Kong appear to have mortality rate of over 10% as opposed to 4% last month and around 2% in February.

Posted by Adrian Constant on 2003-05-02 Oops here is the link...

Posted by Adrian Constant on 2003-05-02

I generated a webpage that discusses the question: "Could SARS and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic be Caused by the Same Virus?"

Posted by James A. Marusek on 2003-05-03

how did influenza of 1918 affect the society at the time and wht would be the future impact

Posted by allan on 2003-07-29

how did influenza of 1918 affect the society at the time and wht would be the future impact

Posted by allan on 2003-07-29

hey im doing a power point on the influenza and iif anyone has a good idea what Virus started the whole thing to please email me.. i read a couple of things that contradict another.. but i need more sources -Thanks alot

Posted by Robert on 2003-10-29

My great-grandfather died from the third wave of the super-flu in the spring of 1919. My grandfather was only three at the time and never had the chance to know his father. An exceptionally virulant strain of flu appears about once a century. I believe that there is a connection between SARS and the super-flu.

Posted by anonymous on 2003-11-13

I use the American Experience video every year in my classroom for my 9th graders.  A few years back there was an article in the New Yorker magazine which suggested that scientists are looking at the remains of several Noregian sailors who died and were buried above the artic circle in the hopes of learning more about the disease's dna.  That may be a way to look into what is being done, now.

Posted by Paul Otis on 2003-11-26

do you know any more rhymes/jokes from the influenza pandemic era?

Posted by erik lihn johnson on 2003-12-09

I was wondering if there is anyone with more information on the flu pandemic. I have to do a project on it and any information anyone could provide would be helpful. If you want to e-mail me, please type "Flu info" or something like it in the subject line. Thank you again.

Posted by Dave B on 2004-02-24

I'm looking for a map of the world where there were outbreaks of influenza in far i've only found one of america and that wasn't much help.if anyone can help me or send me any informtaion about non-general locations...please e-mail me and put "influenza map" in the subject box...thanks a lot.

Posted by Kaila on 2005-02-15

The flu epidemic was so stronmg as it occurred at teh tail end of world war one. Indeed all the calims about how it was caused fall upon world war one. Whether it was caused by the weakening of populations of world war one, and movement of doctors to fight on the front, or cure there. Plus by the weakening of the population as of the massive social chanmges caused by enrollment, THere are soem claims, it was actualloy started among the unnaturally crowded movements of world war one trenches, of people lieing in teh mud, weaked, edn and wounded, helping disease thrive. Then mass troop movements totally unchecked at times helped it's spread and the fact thatit spread during world war one, The state of war caused little international co-operation, and also saw the disease able to become rampant in areas, and from this a disease spawned which was sent right round the world. Infecting most terribly the poorest and most poverty stricken areas.

Posted by jim on 2005-07-23

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