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How long did the Spanish flu last?

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Victims of the Spanish flu as they lie in beds at a barracks hospital
Victims of the Spanish flu as they lie in beds at a barracks hospital on the campus of Colorado Agricultural College, Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1918 (Picture: American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs/PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

With the world still locked in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic and no end in sight, many people are turning to the past in an attempt to piece together some sort of understanding of the current climate.

The Spanish flu pandemic, which struck just over 100 years ago during the First World War, was the deadliest in history, claiming the lives of millions of people across the world.

It isn’t clear where the virus originated from, but the first known case was recorded in the US, not Spain. Instead, it became known as the ‘Spanish flu’ because Spain was particularly badly hit by it, and was able to report more freely on the virus than other countries because it was neutral in WWI.

One area where the Spanish flu differed enormously to Covid-19 is that it was deadly to both old and young people, including children under the age of five and healthy adults between 20 and 40 years old.

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How long did the Spanish flu last?

The first official case of Spanish flu was recorded in Kansas on March 11, 1918 and the virus quickly spread across the world.

It’s likely that it was carried across borders by soldiers who were, of course, engaged in WWI at the time.

The pandemic raged on throughout 1918 and well into 1919, though some reports say it continued into 1920.

How many people died of the Spanish flu?

The Spanish flu was the deadliest pandemic in history and, though accounts differ, it is estimated to have killed between 20 and 50 million people.

Around 500 million people – roughly a third of the world’s population – are believed to have been infected by the virus.

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Was there a second wave of the Spanish flu?

The virus struck in three waves. The initial outbreak happened through April and May, then the second wave started in August and continued until December, and the third wave hit in January 1919.

With no vaccine to fight the Spanish flu and no antibiotics to help treat any secondary infections, methods of fighting the disease and controlling infection rates were limited to basic measures like isolation, quarantining, closing schools and theatres, limiting public gatherings, and encouraging good hygiene – all of which are being employed today.

How did the Spanish flu end?

There was no definitive end to the Spanish flu pandemic. Instead, over time people started developing an immunity to the virus, which itself mutated into a less deadly form.

Have there been other 20th century flu pandemics?

The Spanish flu was the deadliest flu pandemic of the 20th century, but there have been others. The Asian flu pandemic lasted from 1956-57 and the Hong Kong flu followed a decade later, in 1968.

Both are estimated to have killed between a million and four million people.

MORE: The Savoy shows how Covid-19 pandemic unfolded as staff start to get ill

MORE: Unemployment soars to highest level in three years as pandemic strikes jobs

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