Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Great Pandemic and the young

90 years ago this month 12,000 died of influenza in the USA. In October a further 195,000 died. American life expectancy dropped in 1918 by 12 years. Eventually 600,000 American citizien would die of the disease which singled out the young and fit and turned their immune systems against them. The estimates for world fatalities runs from 20-50 million. The truth is we just do not know how many and find it difficult to disentangle the effects of World War 1 with those of the pandemic.

Those authorities which swiftly recognised the nature of what they were dealing with, stemmed the mortality rate by limiting movement, by reducing contact between people and by promotingthe use of masks.

Others, such as the US army which had 13 million men register for the draft in September 1918, unwittingly exacerbated its effects.

Risk Managers should study the history of this great pandemic - if it was to occur again we would need to understand what did or didn't work in 1918, plus how we have moved on since those days, especially in terms of mobility and communication.

Young people take their health for granted, they think such a death couldn't happen to them. Sadly it did for my maternal grandmother in 1919, she was only 30 when she died of influenza leaving behind my mother , then a seven month old baby.

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