Worse Than WWI: How the Spanish Flu Pandemic Surpassed the Body Count of the Great War

In 1918-1920, amid one of the deadliest armed conflicts in human history, over half a billion people contracted the Spanish flu – an unusually dangerous influenza strain that claimed more lives than all WWI battles combined.

In 1918, the battles of the Great War (which is another name for World War I) were raging all over Europe. It started as a bilateral political conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia that turned into an armed one, but from the Balkans it quickly spread to the rest of the continent, with Russia, France, Italy, the British Empire, the US, and several other nations fighting against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.

Even though the war, which began in 1914, was in its final stages by 1918, its death count during that final period multiplied because all the warring sides were hit by a severe flu pandemic.

Some scientists believe that the initial outbreak of the particularly dangerous type of influenza happened in a British staging and hospital camp in France in 1917, others say that the disease could have originated in China, Austria, or the US.

In 1918, the illness, which was incurable at the time, started killing millions of people throughout Europe – soldiers and civilians alike. It was caused by the subtype H1N1 of the influenza A virus and its spread was lightning-fast. The virus attacked lung tissue and damaged the human immune system, leading to fever, bloody cough, bluish discoloration of the skin, pneumonia, and…

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