chapter  10
The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918
WithSrijita Pal
Pages 16

The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more individuals globally than the First World War, yet it often remains on the fringes of the actual conflict. The virus was strange because of its unheard of virulence and atypical patterns of infection. While soldiers struggled to define the flu and keep it from spreading, medical professionals tried to quell the rapidly growing public health crisis caused by outbreaks. This research extensively uses primary sources to look at the ways in which medical professionals professionally spoke about the pandemic and how they described it in private. The contrast that emerges speaks to the challenge of defining and remembering a virus that retains nearly as much mystery today as it did during its reign. While a lack of scientific breakthroughs left many professionals reluctant to reflect on the failure of science, the number of scientific publications on the flu has risen exponentially to this date, showing that there was anything but apathy once the influenza virus was better understood. However, historically, the silences left behind in the pandemic leave the question of why so little attention has been paid to so many deaths. Preliminary findings indicate a couple of things. First, the pandemic has been historically forgotten because dying due to influenza or any other disease was seen as less honorable than dying due to combat. Additionally, deaths during combat overshadowed the deaths of soldiers dying of influenza, and consequently, those mourning felt guilty and placed less importance on the pandemic and more importance on “worthier” causes, such as the war effort. The pandemic has not been traditionally “useful” to any historical narrative, having no cause and no cure. However, scientifically, a focus on understanding the virus and its patterns of virulence has been important for virologists, especially given its usefulness in the development of vaccines and in the public health sector.