Books Contagious Disease

World War I’s Greatest Killer

It is sometimes called the Great Swine Flu epidemic and sometimes the Great Spanish Flu epidemic, but in either case it was ferocious.  World War I killed twenty-one million people in four years; swine flu did the same in its first four months.  Almost 80 percent of American causalities in the First World War came not from enemy fire, but from flu.  In some units the mortality rate was as high as 80 percent.

This passage is from an interesting book I am currently reading called A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.  An (unfortunately) prescient passage in the book describes a certain flu virus we all became familiar with last summer:

From time to time certain strains of virus return.  A disagreeable Russian virus known as H1N1 caused severe outbreaks over wide areas in 1933, then again in the 1950s, and yet again in the 1970s.  Where it went in the meantime each time is uncertain.  One suggestion is that viruses hide out unnoticed in populations of wild animals before trying their hand at a new generation of humans.  No one can rule out the possibility that the Great Swine Flu epidemic might once again rear its head.

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