The so-called "Spanish flu" pandemic was one of the deadliest events in human history. But what about the Spanish flu aftermath? Even though the pandemic technically ended in 1920, its effects echoed into the decades that followed.
From 1918 to 1920, a particularly aggressive strain of influenza - H1N1 - burned across the world, taking the lives of an estimated 50 million people. Xenophobically referred to as the "Spanish flu," the disease didn't actually come from Spain: Spain's neutrality during WWI meant that journalists there freely reported on the pandemic's progress. Indeed, the conflict helped influenza spread. The illness ravaged military ranks and camps. When troops returned home, the disease followed.
The aftermath of significant historical events - like the ending of enslavement or the assassination of JFK - sheds even more light on those events. To fully understand how the Spanish flu ended is to acknowledge that it changed the world in subtle ways. The influenza pandemic wasn't just a global health crisis; it was also a political, economic, and social one with far-reaching ramifications.
- Photo: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
It Paved The Way For Expansive Health Care
The sheer volume of flu patients not only strained hospitals and medical offices, but also made an argument for widespread access to health care.
Before the pandemic, many states did not have strong health systems in place. But the need for medical care on a mass scale convinced many officials to advocate for expansive, and often socialized, health care systems in the 1920s.
It Lowered Life Expectancy By More Than A Decade
Just before the outbreak, most Americans could expect to live until they were around 51 years old. But the pandemic drastically changed that.
It Reinforced Calls For Indian Independence
The influenza pandemic in 1918 and 1919 hit nearly every corner of the globe. But the hardest hit region was India, which was still under British rule. Influenza took the lives of more than 18 million Indians.
The staggering scale of the pandemic - and the fact that the British did little to prevent or mitigate it - only heightened anti-imperialist sentiment and spurred on India's nationalist movement.
It Orphaned Millions Of Children
The 1918 influenza strain disproportionately struck people in their 20s and 40s - men and women with relatively young families.
As the flu burned through communities, many children around the world lost both parents hours, days, or weeks apart. Without a robust welfare system, these children were at the mercy of relatives or institutions.
In New York City alone, the pandemic orphaned 31,000 children.