The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Past flu epidemics

I've often wondered: how come the influenza / grippe / what-have-you started making news in 1918, and remains such a recurrent pain to this day; yet the flu doesn't seem to exist in history prior to 1918.

Searching in Google doesn't turn up much, but it does turn up that the influenza indeed was known prior to the "H1N1" strain of 1918. J Moodie of the University of Cape Town lists a chart of Influenza A Evolution, which makes clear that H3N8 hit in 1874, H2N2 in 1890, and H3N2 in 1902. More searches reveal that H2N2 was taken seriously in 1890, and also H3N8 prior to that but a little less so.

One possible reason is that there were other, more serious plagues at the time like tuberculosis, malaria, and whooping cough, and more primitive doctors; so when someone fell to a "chill" or "cough" the docs didn't make enough note of it (although they did make enough of a record for Moodie to track it). Also the First World War was running in 1918, another apocalyptic event, so accounts of H1N1 ended up in the same history books.

Maybe genetic research will pinpoint other outbreaks prior to 1874 and their effect, if any, upon history.

posted by Zimri on 10:55 | link | 0 comments

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