The Spanish Flu: Three Waves

Referring to the 1918 coronavirus epidemic, the “Spanish flu”:

North noted in a recent article – On How Much the Pandemic Has Shaken the Forecasters – that there were three waves of infection: one in the early spring of 1918, fading in the summer: a resurgence in the fall and early winter of 1918 – where most of the deaths occurred – and a return in the early spring of 1919.

North provides this graph, courtesy of the CDC:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/three-waves.htm

From Wikipedia, we have a similar graph from the UK equivalent:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3291398/

This looks unlikely in regard to the 2019 coronavirus, COVID-19, mainly because the disease is not fading in the summer.

But if the unlikely happens, there will be at least a million dead in the United States by mid-2022.


The horrific scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic—known as the “Spanish flu”—is hard to fathom. The virus infected 500 million people worldwide and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims— that’s more than all of the soldiers and civilians killed during World War I combined.

While the global pandemic lasted for two years, the vast majority of deaths were packed into three especially cruel months in the fall of 1918. Historians now believe that the fatal severity of the Spanish flu’s “second wave” was caused by a mutated virus spread by wartime troop movements.

From: Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly by Dave Roos

Viruses mutate.

And, viruses move with people.

Harris believes that the rapid spread of Spanish flu in the fall of 1918 was at least partially to blame on public health officials unwilling to impose quarantines during wartime. In Britain, for example, a government official named Arthur Newsholme knew full well that a strict civilian lockdown was the best way to fight the spread of the highly contagious disease. But he wouldn’t risk crippling the war effort by keeping munitions factory workers and other civilians home.

According to Harris’s research, Newsholme concluded that “the relentless needs of warfare justified incurring [the] risk of spreading infection” and encouraged Britons to simply “carry on” during the pandemic.

The public health response to the crisis in the United States was further hampered by a severe nursing shortage as thousands of nurses had been deployed to military camps and the front lines. The shortage was worsened by the American Red Cross’s refusal to use trained African American nurses until the worst of the pandemic had already passed.

From: Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly by Dave Roos

My guess is that — because of the quarantines and the lockdowns (necessary due to a lack of a cheap, fast, accurate, and widespread test for COVID-19) — we won’t have a lethal winter resurgence of the virus.

The lack of a major war today changes things for the better. In more ways than one.

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