The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19: New Perspectives

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19: New Perspectives

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19: New Perspectives

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19: New Perspectives

Synopsis

The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-19 was the worst pandemic of modern times, claiming over 30 million lives in less than six months. In the hardest hit societies, everything else was put aside in a bid to cope with its ravages. It left millions orphaned and medical science desperate to find its cause. Despite the magnitude of its impact, few scholarly attempts have been made to examine this calamity in its many-sided complexity.On a global, multidisciplinary scale, the book seeks to apply the insights of a wide range of social and medical sciences to an investigation of the pandemic. Topics covered include the historiography of the pandemic, its virology, the enormous demographic impact, the medical and governmental responses it elicited, and its long-term effects, particularly the recent attempts to identify the precise causative virus from specimens taken from flu victims in 1918, or victims buried in the Arctic permafrost at that time.

Excerpt

John S. Oxford

I view 1918 as a pivotal year in human history. Contiguous with the end of the Great War came the huge wave of global influenza. My own father came back from the Western Front that autumn and whilst he only had to travel across the Channel to home and, he thought to safety, many other soldiers filled liners and cargo ships to overflowing as they returned home to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA. Probably never before, or since, have so many young people travelled together in such over-crowded circumstances. But they had survived the war and were looking forward to family reunion parties, village gatherings and victory marches.

From the point of view of a minuscule virus spread from person to person in droplets from coughs, this was an unprecedented and gloriously unique opportunity - influenza took it. Throughout history, at least after the Ice Age, where there were larger townships and gatherings, micro-organisms have taken advantage of us, as carriers and as a home of replication. Even in this year the number of bacteria and viruses on the planet far exceed our population. So the northern autumn of 1918 witnessed a singular and cataclysmic event, documented so well in this unique volume.

In fact I can think of no more useful exercise than to gather such a diverse group of historians, scientists, geographers and doctors together in one spot to shine a searchlight on the largest outbreak of infectious disease that the world has ever known. But even so, it has to be appreciated that 95 per cent of the world survived, including my own father. But why, with 30 or more million deaths, has knowledge about the pandemic been so hidden in three old but nevertheless fascinating textbooks? In fact the present book to my knowledge is the first comprehensive international anaylsis since a volume published as long ago as 1922. At one stage I had a copy of that book almost to myself. But 10 years ago I received an urgent recall for the book: the librarian seemed slightly breathless and excited. Apparently three people had asked for a viewing. Now three in a population of 50 million in England seemed nothing to get excited about but, as she explained, one was even foreign!

Since then, helped by a few groups of scientists and I suspect by . . .

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