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Lesson from History: The Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu was Deadlier than Its First and Third Waves Combined.

While government officials are arguing whether or not we are now hit by the second wave of COVID-19, let us look back at the deadliest recorded pandemic in human history, the 1918 Spanish Flu. Historians believed that its second wave was deadlier than the first and third waves combined. Let us see what we can learn from this part of world history.

The 1918 Spanish flu infected about 1/3 of the world’s population (about 500 million people) and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims. The flu was first detected in Europe, America and parts of Asia before it rapidly spread around the globe. There were no effective medicines or vaccines available to treat the flu strain. People were ordered to wear masks, education, business and entertainment sectors and establishments were closed and bodies heaped up in improvised morgues.

An emergency hospital during Spanish Flu influenza pandemic. Camp Funston, Kansas,c. 1918 (Image: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Flu or influenza is “a virus that attacks the respiratory system. It is highly contagious: When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, respiratory droplets are generated and transmitted into the air, and can then can be inhaled by anyone nearby. A person who touches something with the virus on it and then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose can become infected.” (

The Spanish flu, called so for its believed origin in Spain, hit San Francisco hard in September 1918 when World War I soldiers began returning home from Europe.

At the time of the pandemic the United States was engaged in World War I. There was a massive movement of troops being deployed across the Atlantic. This movement contributed to the spread of the pandemic. There was more deaths caused by Spanish Flu than the total number of deaths that resulted from World War I.

The Spanish Flu occurred in three waves from March 1918 to the summer of 1919:

The first wave occurred in the Spring (March) of 1918. This outbreak was detected in the U.S. with over a hundred cases reported at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas.

The second wave took place in the Fall, 1918. It was during this season that deaths were jammed in a three month period. There was a shortage of medical personnel around the United States due to the increased number of health professionals served in the U. S. military during WWI. There was a decline in the economy as businesses and factories were forced to shutdown.

A mutated strain of the virus was believed to be the cause of the sudden resurgence of the pandemic, which is now known as the deadlier “second wave.” This mutated strain can kill a healthy young person within 24 hours of showing the first symptoms of infection. The movements of troops deployed in Europe carried the Spanish Flu.

The exact number of deaths during this second wave are unknown. However, the CDC, as quoted by stated that about 195,000 died during the second wave, which was roughly 28% of the 675,00 total deaths in the United States. Thus, the pandemic’s second wave was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths.

The third and last wave happened in the winter and spring of 1919. It added to the pandemic death toll before it subsided in the summer of 1919.

It is important to note that the spread of the Spanish Flu was caused by the “movements of troops” involved in the First World War. Most of the anxiety and fear we feel today as we move from ECQ to GCQ, is the possibility of a deadlier second wave of COVID-19 due to the movements of people. We know for a fact that we are not safe unless an effective vaccine is created and made available to all. Dr. Soccorro Escalante of World Health Organization (WHO) said that “it takes one year to one and a half years to certify that the vaccine is safe and effective” (DOH Virtual Presser, April 27, 2020, Monday). While President Rodrigo Duterte said in his latest public address stated that the vaccine may be available by January of 2021. We really need to exhaust all possible means to avoid the spread of coronavirus until a vaccine is made available. Restricting the movements of people is an effective means to do so. Let us learn from history!



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