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1918 lnfluenza Pandemic - Israel Fatalities

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1918 Influenza Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world's population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify the pandemic's geographic origin.It was implicated in the outbreak of encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States;but papers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII), creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit—thus the pandemic's nickname Spanish flu.

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Around the globe

The difference between the influenza mortality age-distributions of the 1918 epidemic and normal epidemics – deaths per 100,000 persons in each age group, United States, for the interpandemic years 1911–1917 (dashed line) and the pandemic year 1918 (solid line)

Three pandemic waves: weekly combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, United Kingdom, 1918–1919

The global mortality rate from the 1918/1919 pandemic is not known, but an estimated 10% to 20% of those who were infected died. With about a third of the world population infected, this case-fatality ratio means 3% to 6% of the entire global population died. Influenza may have killed as many as 25 million people in its first 25 weeks. Older estimates say it killed 40–50 million people, while current estimates say 50–100 million people worldwide were killed.

This pandemic has been described as "the greatest medical holocaust in history" and may have killed more people than the Black Death. It is said that this flu killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century.

The disease killed in every corner of the globe. As many as 17 million died in India, about 5% of the population. The death toll in India's British-ruled districts alone was 13.88 million. In Japan, 23 million people were affected, and 390,000 died. In the Dutch East Indies (nowIndonesia), 1.5 million were assumed to have died from 30 million inhabitants. In Tahiti, 13% of the population died during only a month. Similarly, in Samoa in November 1918, 22% of the population of 38,000 died within two months. In the U.S., about 28% of the population suffered, and 500,000 to 675,000 died. Native American tribes were particularly hard hit. In the Four Corners area alone, 3,293 deaths were registered among Native Americans. Entire villages perished inAlaska. In Canada 50,000 died. In Brazil 300,000 died, including president Rodrigues Alves. In Britain, as many as 250,000 died; in France, more than 400,000. In West Africa, an influenza epidemic killed at least 100,000 people inGhana. Tafari Makonnen (the future Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia) was one of the first Ethiopians who contracted influenza but survived, although many of his subjects did not; estimates for the fatalities in the capital city, Addis Ababa, range from 5,000 to 10,000, or higher. In British Somaliland one official estimated that 7% of the native population died.

This huge death toll was caused by an extremely high infection rate of up to 50% and the extreme severity of the symptoms, suspected to be caused by cytokine storms Symptoms in 1918 were so unusual that initially influenza was misdiagnosed as dengue, cholera, or typhoid. One observer wrote, "One of the most striking of the complications was hemorrhage from mucous membranes, especially from the nose, stomach, and intestine. Bleeding from the ears and petechial hemorrhages in the skin also occurred." The majority of deaths were from bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection caused by influenza, but the virus also killed people directly, causing massive hemorrhages and edema in the lung.

The unusually severe disease killed up to 20% of those infected, as opposed to the usual flu epidemic mortality rate of 0.1%.

Patterns of fatality

An unusual feature of this pandemic was that it mostly killed young adults. In 1918-1919, 99% of pandemic influenza deaths in the US occurred in people under 65, and nearly half in young adults 20 to 40 years old. In 1920 the mortality rate among people under 65 had decreased six-fold to half the mortality rate of people over 65, but still 92% of deaths occurred in people under 65. This is noteworthy, since influenza is normally most deadly to weak individuals, such as infants (under age two), the very old (over age 70), and the immunocompromised. In 1918, older adults may have had partial protection caused by exposure to the 1889–1890 flu pandemic, known as the Russian flu. According to historian John M. Barry, the most vulnerable of all – "those most likely, of the most likely", to die – were pregnant women. He reported that in thirteen studies of hospitalized women in the pandemic, the death rate ranged from 23% to 71%. Of the pregnant women who survived childbirth, over one-quarter (26%) lost the child.

Another oddity was that the outbreak was widespread in the summer and autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere); influenza is usually worse in winter.

Modern analysis has shown the virus to be particularly deadly because it triggers a cytokine storm, which ravages the stronger immune system of young adults.

In fast-progressing cases, mortality was primarily from pneumonia, by virus-induced pulmonary consolidation. Slower-progressing cases featured secondary bacterial pneumonias, and there may have been neural involvement that led to mental disorders in some cases. Some deaths resulted from malnourishment.

Deadly second wave

American Expeditionary Force victims of the flu pandemic at U.S. Army Camp Hospital no. 45 in Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1918

The second wave of the 1918 pandemic was much deadlier than the first. The first wave had resembled typical flu epidemics; those most at risk were the sick and elderly, while younger, healthier people recovered easily. But in August, when the second wave began in France, Sierra Leone and the United States, the virus had mutated to a much deadlier form. This has been attributed to the circumstances of the First World War.

In civilian life, natural selection favours a mild strain. Those who get very ill stay home, and those mildly ill continue with their lives, preferentially spreading the mild strain. In the trenches, natural selection was reversed. Soldiers with a mild strain stayed where they were, while the severely ill were sent on crowded trains to crowded field hospitals, spreading the deadlier virus. The second wave began and the flu quickly spread around the world again. Consequently, during modern pandemics health officials pay attention when the virus reaches places with social upheaval (looking for deadlier strains of the virus).

The fact that most of those who recovered from first-wave infections were now immune showed that it must have been the same strain of flu. This was most dramatically illustrated in Copenhagen, which escaped with a combined mortality rate of just 0.29% (0.02% in the first wave and 0.27% in the second wave) because of exposure to the less-lethal first wave. On the rest of the population it was far more deadly now; the most vulnerable people were those like the soldiers in the trenches – young healthy adults.

Devastated communities

Even in areas where mortality was low, so many were incapacitated that much of everyday life was hampered. Some communities closed all stores or required customers to leave orders outside. There were reports that the health-care workers could not tend the sick nor the gravediggers bury the dead because they too were ill. Mass graves were dug by steam shovel and bodies buried without coffins in many places.

Several Pacific island territories were particularly hard-hit. The pandemic reached them from New Zealand, which was too slow to implement measures to prevent ships carrying the flu from leaving its ports. From New Zealand, the flu reached Tonga (killing 8% of the population), Nauru(16%) and Fiji (5%, 9,000 people).

Worst affected was Western Samoa, a territory then under New Zealand military administration. A crippling 90% of the population was infected; 30% of adult men, 22% of adult women and 10% of children died. By contrast, the flu was kept away from American Samoa when Governor John Martin Poyer imposed a blockade. In New Zealand itself, 8,573 deaths were attributed to the 1918 pandemic influenza, resulting in a total population fatality rate of 0.74%.

Less-affected areas

In Japan, 257,363 deaths were attributed to influenza by July 1919, giving an estimated 0.425% mortality rate, much lower than nearly all other Asian countries for which data are available. The Japanese government severely restricted maritime travel to and from the home islands when the pandemic struck.

In the Pacific, American Samoa and the French colony of New Caledonia also succeeded in preventing even a single death from influenza through effective quarantines. In Australia, nearly 12,000 perished.

By the end of the pandemic, only one major region on the entire planet had not reported an outbreak: an isolated island called Marajó, located in Brazil's Amazon River Delta.

Aspirin poisoning

In a 2009 paper published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, Karen Starko proposed that aspirin poisoning had contributed substantially to the fatalities. She based this on the reported symptoms in those dying from the flu, as reported in the post mortem reports still available, and also the timing of the big "death spike" in October 1918 which happened right after the Surgeon General of the United States Army, and the Journal of the American Medical Association both recommended very large (by today's standards) dosages of aspirin. Further, Starko suggests that the wave of aspirin poisonings was due to a "perfect storm" of events: Bayer's patent on aspirin expired, so that many companies rushed in to make a profit and greatly increased the supply; this coincided with the flu pandemic; and the symptoms of aspirin poisoning were not known at the time.

This hypothesis, insofar as it sought to provide an explanation to the universally high mortality rate, was questioned in a letter to the journal published in April 2010. In it, Andrew Noymer and Daisy Carreon of the University of California, Irvine, and Niall Johnson of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, questioned this universal applicability given the high mortality rate in countries such as India, where there was little or no access to aspirin at the time. But they overlooked the fact that inexpensive aspirin became available in India and other places after October 1918, when the Bayer patent expired.

On this basis, they concluded that "the salicylate [aspirin] poisoning hypothesis [was] difficult to sustain as the primary explanation for the unusual virulence of the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic." In responding, Starko pointed to anecdotal evidence of aspirin over-prescription in India and argued that even if aspirin over-prescription had not contributed to the high Indian mortality rate, it could still have been a major factor for other high rates in areas where other exacerbating factors present in India played less of a role.

End of the pandemic

After the lethal second wave struck in late 1918, new cases dropped abruptly – almost to nothing after the peak in the second wave. In Philadelphia, for example, 4,597 people died in the week ending 16 October, but by 11 November, influenza had almost disappeared from the city. One explanation for the rapid decline of the lethality of the disease is that doctors simply got better at preventing and treating the pneumonia that developed after the victims had contracted the virus, although John Barry stated in his book that researchers have found no evidence to support this.

Another theory holds that the 1918 virus mutated extremely rapidly to a less lethal strain. This is a common occurrence with influenza viruses: there is a tendency for pathogenic viruses to become less lethal with time, as the hosts of more dangerous strains tend to die out.