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Usually we all see the flu as a minor problem, but now consider such a flu epidemic that it would be the largest known epidemic in human history that caused the death of 15% of the population living at the time it occurred: the “Spanish flu” caused by the H1N1 virus.  

The Spanish flu influenced the whole world in the last months of the First World War, and according to some historians, it is a flu that has such shocking effects that it is an important factor in coming to an end of the four-year war. Contrary to what is supposed by its name, Spain is not the place where it emerged or was observed most. The reason why it is called the Spanish flu is that it was first mentioned in the Spanish media. While the countries do not mention it in the media in order not to decrease the motivation for war, Spain’s media is away from the censorship since Spain was not involved in the First World War.

The Spanish flu, which broke out in the Kansas City of the US in the spring of 1918, not only affected the First World War, but also killed millions of people. Because it is a wartime period, the high social mobility has made it very easy for this disease to spread all over the world. New vaccine trials were held, and new drugs have been produced to prevent the epidemic, but these efforts have not been able to prevent the spread of the flu. Although the gene sequence of the virus that caused the flu in 2005 was found 87 years later, there are still many questions on the subject.

It was later realized that the disease, which was thought to be transmitted from animals to humans at first, was transmitted by air and the importance of wearing a mask for protection was understood. Although 100 years have passed since the epidemic that took place during the cold war period between 1918-1920, the findings we come across are quite surprising:

  – While the age group at the highest risk of getting sick and dying was 20-40, most of those who died were men and pregnant women.

  – This situation has also caused great damage to society, as there are too many elderly and children in need of care left.

  – Worldwide, the most affected by the disease were the poor, immigrants and ethnic minorities who were malnourished, residing in poor housing and unable to see a doctor.

The first symptom of the disease was difficulty in breathing. The most interesting thing about the symptoms was that the patient’s face turns a red-brown color, then blue, and when they die, it turns black. The cause of death was, in most cases, not the flu itself, but pneumonia caused by bacteria settling in the wounds caused by the virus. The patients were showing symptoms such as loss of tooth and hair, dizziness, insomnia, vision, and hearing loss. Those who survived suffered a deep depression after the virus infection. After such an epidemic, important changes were made in the field of public health. In many countries, ministries of health were reorganized, and views on better monitoring of the disease and providing free health care to those in need began to be viewed positively. Nazım Hikmet mentioned the Spanish Flu that influenced the whole world in his poem Kuvayı Milliye Epic and Metin Eloğlu mentioned it in his poem Lokman Physician Says Love.

References:

  1. 1918 Flu Resulted In Current Lineage Of H1N1 Swine Influenza Viruses ScienceDaily.com
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu
  3. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20181016-the-flu-that-transformed-the-20th-century

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