Articles, Blog

The Spanish Flu: One of History’s Deadliest Plagues

February 2, 2020


It’s the early part of the 20th century
you step out of your cottage in the small farming town of sedan in the north
of France you look around and smell the aroma of freshly made baguettes floating
along in the wind through the air you hear a slight whistling sound before you
know it a mortar lands at your feet oh yeah the
Germans invaded France in 1914 and blitzkrieg towards Paris until they were
stopped at the miracle of the Marne in September to prepare for a second
assault the fridge dig trenches along the battlefront throughout Belgium and
northern France and the Germans quickly follow suit now what’s left of your
small village is tucked between the second and fourth largest armies in the
world to put it simply you’re screwed but life didn’t fare much better
elsewhere in the world with the Wright brothers first powered flight in 1903
the invention of the Model T and 1908 and the explosion on world trade at the
end of the 1800s you’d be forgiven for thinking that the turn of the century
would be a time marked by an increased connection between the world’s people
lending itself to a new era of cultural exchange and prosperity but the turn of
the century and the ever increasing connectedness of mankind brought with it
new conflicts they were killing millions of people across the globe the
russo-japanese war from 1904 to 1905 preceded the even deadlier Russian
Revolution in 1905 the Turkish Italian and Balkan Wars tore southern Europe
apart from 1911 to 1913 and alissa failed coos and uprisings dotted the
globe it seemed an ever more connected world was failing to bring peace but
rather facilitated conflict with a complex network of interconnected
alliances throughout Europe the stage was set for a great conflict and with
austria-hungary his declaration of war on Serbia in July of 1914 the Great War
had just begun Western powers were eager to jump into the ring with her newly
developed weapons of war like tanks nerve agents and rudimentary bombers but
while mankind’s capacity to destroy surged ahead at breakneck speeds our
cassadee to rebuild was decidedly laggard modern medicine wasn’t even in
its infancy antibiotics wouldn’t first be discovered for another decade not
even fifty years prior had doctors first recognized the need to sterilize their
instruments or even a wash their hands and while doctors on the frontlines of
World War one knew the importance of keeping wounds clean in the field this
was limited to filling wounds with salt or iodide until patients could be
transferred out of the battle zone in the trenches factors like proximity
weather dirt and trench fever created the
perfect recipe for sick soldiers meanwhile increasing populations across
the globe especially in poor third-world countries with little to no access to
the medical technologies of the day put great strain on what little health
resources there were all these factors were the kindling for what was to come
some say it started in China while others think it originated in the US
regardless of where you think it came from it seemed to spread quickly and
unnoticed reaching small islands dotted across the Pacific researchers in the
Arctic and even infected Greenland and for anyone that’s played plague Inc you
know how hard in fact in Greenland can be many developed nations trying to keep
citizens morale high during the Great War Center the news from reporting on
the sick that seemed to be piling up afraid of the panic that could ensue if
the public were aware of the fast-moving plague sweeping through their country
this made it difficult for anyone to connect the dots and realize this wasn’t
a simple illness but a growing epidemic and no one had yet realized its global
reach but Spain not participating in the war
was less concerned with keeping morale high and so papers were free to report
the epidemics effects on the country unfortunately this gave the impression
that Spain was especially hard-hit and the country would wind up bearing the
diseases name the flu would come to infect 500 million people around the
world nearly 1 in 3 people living in 1918 and killed an estimated 15 million
people making it the second deadliest plague in history they killed 25 million
people within the first 25 weeks alone that’s the equivalent of killing the
city of Dallas Texas every week although maybe that would finally get rid of the
Cowboys a normal flu is fatal in less than 0.1% of cases but for the Spanish
flu it was 10 percent but what made the Spanish flu so dangerous to answer that
you need to know a bit about how the flu virus works the flus proper name is
influenza and there are four subtypes from influence a to influence a deed and
type a is the main type that causes pandemics the viruses are categorized by
two surface proteins human glutton which comes in 18 varieties and neuraminidase
which comes in 11 this is what gives flus they’re coded names like the
Spanish flu h1n1 your immune system does up antibodies that recognize all of
these proteins and can protect you from multiple infections but the influenza
virus can mutate so quickly that your body can’t always keep up most mutations
are very small so small their body will probably be able to defend itself
against a mutated strand but the 1918 flu virus under in a much bigger change
that left many people vulnerable big mutations like these can result in
viruses with very different or even entirely new combinations of surface
proteins and they’re so different that most people have little or no natural
immunity big changes like these or what caused flu pandemics even though the
virus changes all the time today scientists think that the first flu you
encounter might have a lifelong effect on the way your body fights new flu
strands sort of like your body setting up the first fluid encounters to its
default state this means that if you encounter the same strand later in life
you’ll be especially effective at fighting it off even if it’s changed a
little but you won’t do as well against different flu strands with different
surface markers this is exactly what caused the Spanish flu to be so deadly a
hundred years ago in the end of the 1800s the so-called Russian flu was the
dominant strain and that was probably the h3n8 variant then around 1900 the h1
type became dominant and some time right before 1918 another shift created the
h1n1 strain this meant that people born after the Russian flu had nearly no
natural immunity to an h1n1 type flu like the one that was spreading across
the and oddly enough those people’s young
healthy immune systems actually worked against them and cause a lot of them
today quickly after showing symptoms these rapid deaths were caused by
cytokine storms which is an immune system response so intense that can
damage a person’s tissues and the stronger a person’s immune system is
like the ones found in young people the more damage a cytokine storm can do so
when a weird twist of fate the healthiest people who are normally the
most immune to the flu were actually the ones who suffered the most from it so
even with student debt and rising housing prices today 1918 was not a
great time to be a young person after the outbreak of the Spanish flu a huge
portion of the global population had gained an immunity and the virus
probably mutated to a less deadly form which helps save off further chaos the
scary thing is even today scientists aren’t exactly sure what magical
combination of mutations makes the flu more or less deadly either way these
days we don’t need to worry about the Spanish flu specifically many of today’s
h1 viruses are actually descended from that 1918 virus so most people have at
least some h1 immunity but if there’s ever another big mutation that could be
a problem to protect us from that possibility and all other flu seasons
scientists are working on a universal flu vaccine there are several in
development right now that target parts of the virus liver the same across all
variants rather than just focusing on the surface proteins of individual
strains and if any of them work it could someday mean that one vaccine could
protect you from every flu strain across every season so even though it’s
possible hopefully we’ll never experience another
pandemic like the Spanish flu ever again thanks for watching this episode of
everything science this idea was actually recommended by a subscriber so
if you have any ideas for videos you want us to cover make sure to leave
those in the comments section down below and remember there’s always more to
learn

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4 Comments

  • Reply Don't mind me December 11, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    This was very interesting! You're really good at presenting topics. I know because I always learn a lot from your videos.
    You deserve viralty beyond the likes of the Spanish Flu!

  • Reply Everything Science December 11, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    Loved the video? Hated it? Thoughts on what you want to see next? Leave those down here in the comments section (btw this video topic was suggested by a subscriber so I actually do take what you all want to see to heart!)

  • Reply aXel Red December 21, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Great video I had no idea about any of these things

  • Reply Joseph Cade January 4, 2020 at 12:02 am

    What does this have to with the spanish flu half the video is on war

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