The 1918 Flu Killed Millions. Does It Hold Clues for Today? (NYT)

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Flu researchers know the epidemic of 1918 all too well.

It was the worst infectious disease epidemic ever, killing more Americans in just a few months than died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam Wars combined. Unlike most flu strains, which kill predominantly the very old and the very young, this one — a bird flu, as it turns out — struck young adults in their 20's, 30's and 40's, leaving children orphaned and families without wage earners.

So now, as another bird flu spreads across the globe, killing domestic fowl and some wild birds and, ominously, infecting and killing more than 100 people as well, many scientists are looking back to 1918. Did that flu pandemic get started in the same way as this one? Will today's bird flu turn into tomorrow's human pandemic?

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James W Loewen - 3/31/2006

Anyone who claims the 1918 flu epidemic was "the worst infectious disease epidemic ever" knows no history before 1918. Consider the various Plagues in Europe/Asia, or, to be REALLY serious, the stunning plagues that decimated American Indians from 1493 to 1890 (and are even continuing today in the interior of Brazil).