How many died of influenza in 1918-1919? Sources differ, but the pandemic was even more tragic than WW I.
The global mortality rate from the 1918/1919 pandemic is not known, but is estimated at 2.5% – 5% of the human population, with 20% of the world population suffering from the disease to some extent. Influenza may have killed as many as 25 million in its first 25 weeks; in contrast, AIDS killed 25 million in its first 25 years. Influenza spread across the world, killing more than 25 million in six months; some estimates put the total killed at over twice that number, possibly even 100 million.
A flu virus could acquire the ability to jump easily from person to person in one of two ways. First, genetic changes could take place over time that would make the virus progressively more transmissible, which is likely what happened during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide. Or the change could happen more suddenly, when one virus exchanges genetic material with another virus that’s already circulating easily among humans. This is probably what happened with the 1957 and 1968 pandemics, Gerberding said.
Scientists have decoded the genetic structure of the influenza virus that killed tens of millions of people soon after World War I. The research fulfills more than a mere historical curiosity. With fears about an impending pandemic from avian flu, the work provides insight into the structure of killer flu viruses that might lead to better medicines against them. It was the 20th century’s greatest plague. Estimates of the 1918-1919 flu death toll range from 20 million to 50 million, more than died in the war that had just preceded it.
Was there intentional germ warfare against the American Indians in the Colonial era? I don’t know either, but here’s a reference from a doubter:
The subject is a touchy one to me as common wisdom, with which I disagree, has it Europeans actively used disease as germ warfare in the 18th and 19th cent. The common wisdom further assumes such practice enjoyed efficacious success. The statement is made that smallpox-contaminated blankets were commonly used throughout Americans’ westward advance to remove the Indian from objection. The notion is accepted as a truism. I have never been able to find explicit record of such use but for the actions of Lord Amherst during the F-I wars, who bragged about it. I’ve had intense discussions with scholars knowledgable in the field of Indian/White relations who accept without reflection the common use of this technique but, at my prodding, can find only the Amherst example in all our history. The practical effect of Amherst’s action is debatable but is, I understand, generally accepted to have had inconclusive effect on the target tribe.
There are practical arguments against the view of such use: how to keep the disease confined to the the target group without spreading to tribes of one’s allies or to frontier settlements, for example? How does one wage germ-warfare when he doesn’t know what a germ is?
I would somewhere like to see work done on the US govt’s efforts to inoculate Indians against smallpox far into the unsettled territories. Such efforts were begun just beginning the 19th century, only a few years after an effective protection miraculously emerged from the noise of other conflicting theological and superstitious theories of prevention and cure. Despite bureaucratic bungling with tragic consequence (the destruction by smallpox of the Mandan tribes of the upper Missouri in the late 1830s), this policy of innoculation was practiced at least until the 1840s.
Does the susceptibility of the American Indians to Old World diseases prove that there was no substantial European presence in the Americas prior to Columbus? There is a myth or story claiming that the Mandan Indians of the Great Plains are descendants of a pre-Columban Welsh colony, originally in what is now Alabama and dating from 1170. The Mandan’s susceptibility to smallpox seems to cast doubt on that story unless smallpox first appeared in Wales after 1170 or became more virulent after that date. (I found the Mandan story while researching my own bit of Welsh ancestry.)
Famous victims of this disease include Ramesses V (see Koplow, p. 11, plus notes), Shunzhi Emperor and Tongzhi Emperor of China (official history), Mary II of England, Louis XV of France, and Peter II of Russia. Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, survived the disease but was scarred by it, as was Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I of England in 1562, Guru Har Krishan 8th Guru of the Sikhs in 1664 and Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Joseph Stalin, who was badly scarred by the disease early in life, would often have photographs retouched to make his pockmarks less apparent.
After first contacts with Europeans and Africans, the death of a large part of the native population of the New World was caused by Old World diseases. Smallpox was the chief culprit. On at least one occasion, germ warfare was attempted by the British Army under Jeffery Amherst when two smallpox-infected blankets were deliberately given to representatives of the besieging Delaware Indians during Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763. That Amherst intended to spread the disease to the natives is not doubted by historians; whether or not the attempt succeeded is a matter of debate.