2018 flu bug similar to 1918 outbreak but with big differences
By Delthia Ricks
via the newsday.com web site (Long Island, NY)
A ferocious flu outbreak that circumnavigated the globe in 1918 has eerie parallels to the epidemic sweeping across the United States now, but medical and history experts said despite each arriving 18 years into new centuries, the two influenzas differ significantly.
During a news briefing Monday at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage where vast collections of memorabilia from both 20th century world wars are displayed, experts rekindled memories of the 1918 pandemic, the worst flu outbreak in history.
“This was a global crisis, bigger than the Black Death,” said Libby O’Connell, who chairs the New York World War I Centennial and is chief historian emeritus at the History Channel. “It was closely intertwined with the environment of WWI, which included trench warfare.”
The “Black Death” was a rat-borne plague that moved in waves across Eurasia from 1347 to 1351. It was caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis, that killed an estimated 75 million to 200 million people. By contrast, the 1918 flu pandemic was spawned by a virus not identified until technology and a new era of scientific questioning emerged in the 1930s.
Scientists estimate the pandemic a century ago claimed the lives of 600,000 people in the United States and about 50 million worldwide. It is believed to have been a bird flu strain.
“There weren’t enough gravediggers,” O’Connell said. Bodies piled up faster than they could be buried. Mass graves were sometimes a solution.
The fierce respiratory illness swept through Camp Upton, a military installation in Brookhaven Town, O’Connell said. The camp was packed with soldiers and served as a veritable influenza incubator.
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