Facts and Trivia from the History of Influenza
Because this Asthma Mom finds herself drawn to any headline with the word flu in it lately and also because I had to sacrifice this site’s popular Weird Health feature to a massively time-consuming and so far neverending job search, here’s a little trivia on the very un-trivial influenza virus:
1. Historical writings about flu-like symptoms have been around for a long time, but pandemics don’t appear in our recorded history until 1580, a phenomenon attributed to Spanish troops’ traveling and therefore spreading contagion around Europe.
2. As more people – both soldiers and civilians – traveled more and lived in closer quarters over the decades and then centuries, the incidences of epidemics and pandemics grew.
3. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, U.S. life expectancy dropped by 12 years.
4. The pandemics that have occurred since 1918, in 1957 and 1968, were descended from that horribly virulent strain.
5. In fact, because of that and because the nature of the influenza virus is to mutate rapidly, frequently, and in unexpected ways, some scientists believe that from 1918 until now, we’ve been experiencing something they call a pandemic era.
Scary thought, right?
6. On the other hand, flu knowledge, research, and (subsequently) prevention has come a long way in the last 91 years.
7. Actually, it’s come a long way since the first recorded outbreaks. Consider this: the word influenza is Italian for influence, as in the best explanation people had for flu outbreaks centuries ago, without the use of modern medical equipment, was that the stars influenced outbreak occurrences.
8. No one really knows why the seasonal flu is – well – seasonal, but researchers believe weather plays a large role.
Most information comes from these sources:
A History of the Flu
A Brief History Of: Flu Pandemics
October 2009 print edition