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The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History


formthirteen
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This was a pretty interesting book:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6387532-the-great-influenza

The behavior of humans and viruses has not changed since 1918...

Here are some random quotes I found interesting:

 

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“Remember the 3 Cs, clean mouth, clean skin, and clean clothes. . . . Keep the bowels open. . . . Food will win the war. . . . [H]elp by choosing and chewing your food well.”

 

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in some areas the civilian mortality rate reached 30 percent.

 

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“If the epidemic continues its mathematical rate of acceleration, civilization could easily,” he wrote in hand, “disappear . . . from the face of the earth within a matter of a few more weeks.”

 

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THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of victims, especially in the Western world, recovered quickly and fully. This was, after all, only influenza. But the virus sometimes caused one final complication, one final sequela. The influenza virus affected the brain and nervous system. All high fevers cause delirium, but this was something else. An army physician at Walter Reed Hospital investigating serious mental disturbances and even psychoses that seemed to follow an attack of influenza specifically noted, “Delirium occurring at the height of the disease and clearing with the cessation of fever is not considered in this report.”


 

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The virus burned through available fuel. Then it quickly faded away. The second process occurred within the virus. It was only influenza. By nature the influenza virus is dangerous, considerably more dangerous than the common aches and fever lead people to believe, but it does not kill routinely as it did in 1918. The 1918 pandemic reached an extreme of virulence unknown in any other widespread influenza outbreak in history.

 

 

 

 

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One physician gave hydrogen peroxide intravenously to twenty-five patients in severe pulmonary distress, believing that it would get oxygen into the blood. Thirteen recovered; twelve died. This physician, too, claimed success: “The anoxemia was often markedly benefited, and the toxemia appeared to be overcome in many cases.”

 

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Epidemiological evidence suggests that a new influenza virus originated in Haskell County, Kansas, early in 1918. Evidence further suggests that this virus traveled east across the state to a huge army base, and from there to Europe. Later it began its sweep through North America, through Europe, through South America, through Asia and Africa, through isolated islands in the Pacific, through all the wide world. In its wake followed a keening sound that rose from the throats of mourners like the wind. The evidence comes from Dr. Loring Miner.

 

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Miner had seen influenza often. He diagnosed the disease as influenza. But he had never seen influenza like this. This was violent, rapid in its progress through the body, and sometimes lethal. This influenza killed. Soon dozens of his patients—the strongest, the healthiest, the most robust people in the county—were being struck down as suddenly as if they had been shot.

 

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Basically everything in the body—whether it belongs there or not—either carries a form on its surface, a marking, a piece that identifies it as a unique entity, or its entire form and being comprises that message. (In this last case, it is pure information, pure message, and it embodies perfectly Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “the medium is the message.”) Reading the message, like reading braille, is an intimate act, an act of contact and sensitivity. Everything in the body communicates in this way, sending and receiving messages by contact. This communication occurs in much the same way that a round peg fits into a round hole. When they fit together, when they match each other in size, the peg “binds” to the hole. Although the various shapes in the body are usually more complex than a round peg, the concept is the same.

 

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Throughout known history there have been periodic pandemics of influenza, usually several a century. They erupt when a new influenza virus emerges.

 

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DNA has a kind of built-in proofreading mechanism to cut down on copying mistakes. RNA has no proofreading mechanism whatsoever, no way to protect against mutation. So viruses that use RNA to carry their genetic information mutate much faster—from 10,000 to 1 million times faster—than any DNA virus. Different RNA viruses mutate at different rates as well. A few mutate so rapidly that virologists consider them not so much a population of copies of the same virus as what they call a “quasi species” or a “mutant swarm.”

 

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Influenza is an RNA virus. So are HIV and the coronavirus. And of all RNA viruses, influenza and HIV are among those that mutate the fastest. The influenza virus mutates so fast that 99 percent of the 100,000 to 1 million new viruses that burst out of a cell in the reproduction process are too defective to infect another cell and reproduce again. But that still leaves between 1,000 and 10,000 viruses that can infect another cell.

 

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One more thing makes influenza unusual. When a new influenza virus emerges, it is highly competitive, even cannibalistic. It usually drives older types into extinction. This happens because infection stimulates the body’s immune system to generate all its defenses against all influenza viruses to which the body has ever been exposed.

 

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Then the disease was gone. On August 10, the British command declared the epidemic over. In Britain itself on August 20, a medical journal stated that the influenza epidemic “has completely disappeared.”

 

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Influenza was about to become interesting. For the virus had not disappeared. It had only gone underground, like a forest fire left burning in the roots, swarming and mutating, adapting, honing itself, watching and waiting, waiting to burst into flame.

 

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And it killed enough to depress the average life expectancy in the United States by more than ten years.

 

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The influenza outbreak in 1997 in Hong Kong, when a new virus jumped from chickens to humans, killed only six people and it did not adapt to man. More than a million chickens were slaughtered to prevent that from happening, and the outbreak has been much studied.

 

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NOTHING COULD HAVE STOPPED the sweep of influenza through either the United States or the rest of the world—but ruthless intervention and quarantines might have interrupted its progress and created occasional firebreaks.

 

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And he confided, “The Federal public health service has been . . . unable to handle adequately the entire situation. . . . [They] have not been on the job.”

 

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Vicks VapoRub advertisements in hundreds of papers danced down the delicate line of reassurance while promising relief, calling the epidemic, “Simply the Old-Fashioned Grip Masquerading Under a New Name.”

 

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Only in the next few years did it finally fade away in both the United States and the world. It did not disappear. It continued to attack, but with far less virulence, partly because the virus mutated further toward its mean, toward the behavior of most influenza viruses, partly because people’s immune systems adjusted. But it left a legacy.

Maybe I should read about a book about the "Wall Street Crash of 1929" next, so I can prepare for the inevitable.

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