1920's Killer flu of 1918 may have quietly evolved for years

February 15, 1999

In this story:
Virus mutates, grows more dangerous
From people to pigs and back again?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The 1918 flu that killed more than 20 million people may have quietly percolated for several years, trading back and forth between pigs and people, until suddenly growing strong enough to become the worst recorded global epidemic.

That's the latest theory from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which reported Monday that researchers for the first time have completely analyzed a critical gene from the killer influenza virus.

The gene likely "was adapting in humans or in swine for maybe several years before it broke out as a pandemic virus," said molecular biologist Ann Reid, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But "we can't tell whether it went from pigs into humans or from humans into pigs," she said.

Different influenza strains circle the globe annually. Usually, they're fairly similar to viruses people have caught in the past. Every so often a strain tough enough to kill millions emerges, and experts warn that the world is overdue for another pandemic.

That's why understanding the 1918 flu's genes are important. Scientists need to know what made that strain the deadliest ever recorded -- and why it struck down mostly young, healthy people -- to better react if similar killer flu emerges again.

CNN - Killer flu of 1918 may have quietly evolved for years - February 15, 1999

here we are talking about a bug, that killed at least 25million people in a 18 month period, (You travelled slower at that time.) i would be far more nervous if they had found it, but fortunantly they didn't. whit a population today that is 3½ time as large as in 1918, and infrastructure that makes it possible to move from one end of the world to another more than 8 times as fast as they could at that time, THAT would have been a true catastrophy, imagine more than 90 million peope dead in under 4 months, and another 450 million layed low in the same period. just think what that would do to the world economy, and how many wars, insurrections that could coused.


More About the Film "Influenza 1918"

In September of 1918, soldiers at an army base near Boston suddenly began to die. The cause of death was identified as influenza, but it was unlike any strain ever seen. As the killer virus spread across the country, hospitals overfilled, death carts roamed the streets and helpless city officials dug mass graves. It was the worst epidemic in American history, killing over 600,000--until it disappeared as mysteriously as it had begun.

It was the end of the summer in 1918 in Philadelphia, a city of a million and a half people.
World War I, "the war to end all wars," was drawing to a close as the British crossed the Hindenburg Line. At the University of Pennsylvania, drilling, uniforms, and war courses were the order of the day for 2,240 students of draft age who had been inducted into the Students' Army Training Corps (SATC), a federal program designed to prepare young men as officers. Penn's dormitories and fraternity houses served as barracks. By order of Major Charles T. Griffith, the officer in charge of the program, the University's daily newspaper, The Pennsylvanian, had been placed under military authority and served as the official bulletin of the SATC.

In Philadelphia, it was business as usual. People were flocking to the long-running British musical Chu Chin Chow at the Shubert Theater, Jerome Kern's Leave It to Jane at the Chestnut Street Opera House, and John Philip Sousa's Liberty Loan concert at Willow Grove Park. Everyone was sure it was just a matter of time until "the boys came home." No one was paying much attention to the account of an unusual sickness reported earlier in the year by a Spanish wire service to Reuter's London headquarters: "A strange form of disease of epidemic character has appeared in Madrid."
Within a short time, eight million Spaniards were ill with what was to be named the "Spanish influenza." Fueled by troop movements, it spread like wildfire across Europe, the Mideast, and Asia. By the summer of 1918, the "Spanish Lady" had reached American soil. In 120 days, more than half of the world's population would fall victim to the influenza pandemic, and nearly 22 million would die of complications.
The disease began with a cough, then increasing pain behind the eyes and ears. Body temperature, heart rate, and respiration escalated rapidly. In the worst cases, pneumonia quickly followed. The two diseases inflamed and irritated the lungs until they filled with liquid, suffocating the patients and causing their bodies to turn a cyanotic blue-black.
In Pennsylvania, the influenza epidemic began almost unnoticed in the middle of September. First a few cases, and then the numbers began to rise rapidly. Worried state health authorities decided to add influenza to the list of reportable diseases. Their concern increased when 75,000 cases were reported statewide. The worst was still ahead.
Philadelphia was about to become the American city with the highest death toll in one of the three worst epidemics in recorded history.
Philadelphia newspapers and The Pennsylvanian chronicled the passage of the "Spanish Lady" day-by-day through city and campus.

Philadelphia, October 4: 636 new cases, 139 deaths.
Dr. A.A. Cairns, acting president of the Philadelphia Board of Health, is frantic: more new cases every day, and the city's death toll is mounting. How can the disease be stopped when no one even knows why it is spreading? The state has already closed all the vaudeville and picture houses, theaters, and saloons in Pennsylvania. Cairns decides to close all schools and churches in the city...
Philadelphia businessmen are up in arms about the epidemic. More cases mean more employee absences and fewer customers. It is no longer business as usual, but business if possible. In desperation, the Bell Telephone Company runs the following full-page notice in the newspapers:
Telephone Service Faces A Crisis
The situation is one which the public must meet squarely -- 800 operators -- 27% of our force -- are now absent due to the influenza. It is every person's duty to the community to cut out every call that is not absolutely necessary that the essential needs of the government, doctors and nurses may be cared for.

Worried Philadelphians, wearing gauze influenza masks over their noses and mouths, quickly cross to the other side of the street if a passerby chances to cough or sneeze.
Weeping women in West Manayunk block the car of Dr. Joseph Schlotterer, who is making a house call, and permit him to leave only after he treats 57 neighborhood children.
Frantic shoppers strip pharmacy shelves bare. The press of customers is so great that the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Temple University suspend classes so that pharmacy students can help fill prescriptions. Most are for whiskey, which, now that saloons are closed, is available only in drugstores. Rather than wait to become a statistic, people turn to home remedies: goose-grease poultices, sulfur fumes, onion syrup, chloride of lime.
Snake-oil artists hawk their useless potions in newspaper ads:
Use Oil of Hyomei. Bathe your breathing organs with antiseptic balsam.
Munyon's Paw Paw Pills for influenza insurance.
Sick with influenza? Use Ely's Cream Balm. No more snuffling. No struggling for breath



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