Spanish Flu, 1918 – Have We Learnt Anything Since?


The Spanish Flu made my Great Granddad an orphan. It was an unknown, misunderstood disease which swept through the world, killing many millions just after the end of the First World War. It may have ultimately killed between 3% and 6% of the entire global population. Lack of scientific knowledge decreased the world’s ability to handle the disease. Germ Theory and the existence of microorganisms which caused disease had only been discovered about 50 years beforehand, so knowledge on how to react was limited. Even nowadays, some information on the Spanish Flu is missing.

Any information that was accepted as scientific fact at the time was often founded on xenophobic stereotypes. It was believed for a long time that the Spanish Flu had started in Spain, as the Spanish press was the first to report cases. However, the truth was that most other countries were censoring it out of their papers, a habit carried over from the secrecy of the Great War. Instead, the true origin of the disease could never be ascertained. The continuous movement of soldiers across Europe means this can only be left to speculation.

The disease rapidly spread across the world, preying on younger adults more frequently than the elderly. Even though the nature of the virus means it shouldn’t have been as deadly as Covid currently is, poverty, poor living conditions and malnutrition caused by the War created a breeding ground for disease. This, paired with high rates of diagnosis, was why it was so deadly.

Children who are being born during the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar story to my Granddad. They may be losing parents or grandparents. While they will be able to build wonderful families around them as they grow older, there will always be a hole in their lives of the people who should have been there.

Our government has so much more knowledge than those of the early 1900s. Despite this, the government have made decisions around Covid-19 that can be only described as politically charged, rather than ethical or based in scientific knowledge.

It makes me wonder:

Has the government learnt anything at all in these 100 years?


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