From the spring of 1918 to the early months of 1919, the Spanish flu pandemic ravaged the world, killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million people. It came in three waves, with the last wave being the most deadly. This flu was unusual in that it was both extremely deadly and seemed to target the young and healthy, being particularly deadly to 20 to 35 year olds. By the time the flu had run its course, it had killed upwards of five percent of the world's population.


Question: Since I discovered that many of my family in Ireland died as a result of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic I have read many articles on the subject from many sources (I included the above paragraph to "set the scene").

To be specific, my question isnt about the details of the flu itself (this is well documented), I would like to know more about what a person would have experienced once contracted, how was it diagnosed?, was prognosis given immediately? how families coped? where they able to visit their loved ones in hospital or did they die in quarantine? etc

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    As an aside, the bit about it mostly affecting the young and healthy jumped out at me. We had a minor flu pandemic like that a few years ago. The reason it had that weird distribution was that it was a strain that had gone around 30 years ago, and thus a large number of people over 30 had been exposed to it and were immune. I bet if you look back to 1880-1890ish (assuming there are records for this), you'd find another flu outbreak and it was the same strain. – T.E.D. Sep 20 '12 at 14:07
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    Wow. I looked into it deeper (nytimes.com/1992/11/29/magazine/…), and the Spanish Flu through genetic testing turns out to be none other than the same recent flu I was talking about: H1N1 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influenza_A_virus_subtype_H1N1 and yes, it also went around in the late 1970's, which is why mostly young people got it in 2009). – T.E.D. Sep 20 '12 at 14:21
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    @T.E.D. From what I have read the reason for the distruibution for in this particular pandemic was the mobilization of troops coming home from the Great War. I bet your right about other pandemics and I will keep a look out as its an interesting subject considering it killed more people than the war itself, yet you never hear about it until something like bird-flu surfaces. – stephenmyall Sep 20 '12 at 14:25
  • @T.E.D. Young people tend to congregate in larger groups, schools, soldiers sports events etc. I thinks this is why its so prevelant. – stephenmyall Sep 20 '12 at 14:27
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    @StepenMyall - Perhaps. Another theory I saw looking into this is that most of the deaths may have been caused by an overenthusiastic immune response, which means young people with healthy immune systems would be more likely to die. – T.E.D. Sep 20 '12 at 14:46

I heard a few interviews with an author of a book that went into this subject on the NPR circuit a few years back. Sadly, I didn't pick it up, and don't remember the book's name now.

I do vaguely remember hearing that when it was going around, so many people were sick (not to mention dying), that in a lot of places society hit a kind of tipping point and basic services started to break down. Trash could no longer be collected, bodies weren't getting buried, etc.

From surfing around Amazon, the best book that I can find that goes into the societal aspects is America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. It covers the USA rather than Ireland, but it was a truly global pandemic, so it should give you an idea.


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