Has the swine-flu fright died down a bit? And if so, is that right? We could learn from earlier flu pandemics. ABC's Rear Vision puts them in perspective. Those that we have sufficient data about are one in 1890, 1957 and in 1968, but the most gruesome was the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.
One thing we take away from the show is that these flus have an initial wave that seems weak, but then strikes more violently, so that would make our relief unwarranted. However, we also learn how much more we know about viruses and how this knowledge helped prevent a pandemic of the bird-flu in 1997. The bird-flu virus was also much more dangerous than the current swine-flu. So that is a mixed message.
The history of 1918 is marred by the Great War anyway and I can't help but be struck by the poignant fact that this flu took 50 million lives of mostly young people after a war that had also taken exactly those. I think it goes too far, as is suggested in the program, that the lost generations of France, Germany and England were actually lost to flu and not to the trenches. The Spanish flu took 50 million lives world wide, men and women. The millions of soldiers who died on the war front were exclusively men and from a few countries. The generation was lost to both. Losing a generation to war is very much part of modernity with its large scale war, but losing a generation to disease sounds like a story from the Middle-Ages. We are not out of those woods yet.
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