The Spanish FluIn 1918, while the world was at war and many people were falling to their deaths, another deadly killing machine rose up and shocked the world. Unknown to the world back then, it infected over 500 million people and killed 50 to 100 million people, about 3-5% of the world population at the time. Today, it is known as the Spanish Flu and is considered to be one of the deadliest pandemics in history. Some even call it “the mother of all pandemics”. The pandemic was so deadly that it killed more people than World War I itself. Even 100 years after, many people still remember and talk about the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Electron micrograph displaying recreated virions from 1918The pandemic was caused by the H1N1 influenza virus, a severe and deadly strain of avian flu. The H1N1 virus is similar to the bird flu today, mainly the H5N1 and H5N2 type. The disease mutated so much that it was so hard for the body to recognize it. The virus infected lung cells which caused overstimulation of the immune system. This lead to lots of white blood cells migrating to the lungs which caused destruction of tissues in the lungs. This made it hard for the patients to breath and they would get pneumonia after the disease had entered the body. There were many different symptoms of the disease. Normal flu symptoms of the 1918 pandemic were fever, chills, aches and diarrhea. Many also had severe pneumonia attack. Dark spots would appear on their cheeks and they would turn blue, caused by the lack of oxygen. United States Public Health Service flyer from 1918 about the InfluenzaWhen someone who had the disease coughed or sneezed, half a million virus particles would be released into the air and could be spread to those nearby. Once the infected air is inhaled by someone nearby, the disease could enter their body through the mouth, the nose or breaks in the skin. Once inside the body, the virus will quickly find a host cell to infect. Cold and flu viruses would attack cells that are in the respiratory or digestive tracts. Whatever the host cell, every virus follows the same steps which is known as the lytic cycle:The virus attaches itself to a host cellIt releases its genetic material into the cellThe genetic material takes over the cell’s enzymesThe newly recruited enzymes make new particles for the virusThe new particles assemble into new virusesThen the new viruses leave the host cellIn the lytic cycle, the virus will reproduce using the host’s chemical machinery. The red lines in the diagram show the genetic material of the virus. The orange part around it is the shell that protects it. The first report of the outbreak was at Fort Riley, Kansas, which was a military training facility that prepared American troops for World War I. Because the first confirmed outbreak was in Kansas, some historians have claimed that Kansas was the original source of the flu. Other historians claim that Etaples, France, was the center of the pandemic in 1918 and others believe that the disease had come from China but had just mutated in the U.S. to then spread to Europe. Although the disease was called the Spanish Flu, it didn’t originate in that country. It was called the Spanish Flu because during the war, the media wasn’t able to report the disease as it had to focus on the war. But in neutral Spain, the papers were free to report on the disease in Spain as the Spanish King at the time, Alfonso XIII, had contracted the disease too. The close quarters of World War I, especially in the trenches, helped spread the disease which then spread worldwide, infecting 500 million people of the world population. The many troop movements of the war also helped the disease spread, and the fast transportation allowed the disease to spread fast and quickly. Some also say that the war increased the deadliness of the virus.The disease killed about 10% to 20% of those infected. It killed people in almost every corner of the globe. The life expectancy in the U.S. dropped about 10 years. This chart shows the mortality rate in major cities across America and EuropeUnlike other pandemics, which killed the old and the very young, the 1918 pandemic killed a staggering number of young adults ranged from 20-40 years old.This is a graph showing the death rate from each age group. The dotted line shows the death rates from 1911 to 1917 and the black line shows the death rate from 1918. You can see that there is an unusual number of young adults aged 20-40 that had died from the disease. The pandemic had huge negative economic, social and political implications. Almost anywhere, the disease is taking lives wiping out families and communities. People could not interact normally because of fear of catching or spreading the disease. Even in the areas where the death rates were low, so many people were disabled or unfit that most of everyday life was hindered. Some villages even closed all stores and there were reports that health-care workers weren’t able to tend to the sick as they were too ill. Image of the sick and ill in a sleeping areaThe governments spent lots of money in health care and research to combat the disease. With a huge adult population dying or sick, there was limited workforce to help grow the economies of the affected countries. People also lost confidence on their leaders and governments because a solution could not be found. But by the summer of 1919, it came to an end as new cases of the influenza dropped quickly. The reason was that doctors improved at treating the pneumonia that came after a patient had contracted the virus. In conclusion, the Spanish Flu pandemic was one of the deadliest in the world killing more people than World War I itself. The pandemic also impacted many aspects of society for the worse and left a huge imprint on the world. We still talk about its effects on the world today and it can truly be called “the mother of all pandemics”.