Covid-19 and The Spanish Flu

Disclaimer: Views expressed in Bob’s Blog belong solely to the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the CAC Office in Aging or its staff. 

As of December 22, 2021, there have been 1,357,289 cases of Covid-19 here in Tennessee. 19.9% of the people living here have had it.

Here in Knox County, there have been 83,444 cases – 17.5% of the people have been infected.

This May Shock You

The news media regularly reports how bad Covid-19 is in other states. Most frequently mentioned are New York, California, Michigan and Texas.

Actually, Tennessee is the fourth worst state for the percentage of residents with Covid-19.  North Dakota, Alaska and Rhode Island have higher percentages. The percentages in New York, California, Michigan and Texas are lower.

Covid-19 and the Spanish Flu

At various times, Covid-19 has been compared to the Spanish flu.

How much do you know about the Spanish Flu? If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know anything other than the name. So, I thought you might be interested in learning what I found out.

The Spanish Flu – The Most Severe Pandemic in Recent History

If you research the Spanish flu, you will find it is considered to be the most severe pandemic not only here in our country but also the world in the last 200 years.

Let’s focus on this flu and its impact here in America.

The first cases were detected at an army base in Fort Riley, Kansas in March of 1918. More than100 soldiers developed flu like symptoms. Within a week, over 500 people came down with it.

At that time, there was no internet, television or vast radio network.  Information spread slowly. This influenza was not mentioned in a public health report until April 5. In that report, it indicated 18 cases were severe and 3 people had died.

The influenza started to spread throughout the United States.  At the same time, World War I was being fought and troops spread it throughout England and Europe.  Fairly quickly, it reached Asia. It continued to spread sporadically for 6 months.

In September of 1918, a second wave of the flu started to appear at an army training camp outside of Boston and a naval facility in Boston.

World War I ended in November of 1918, People started to celebrate with returning soldiers and the number of cases grew rapidly.

Philadelphia had a Liberty Loan parade to celebrate the war’s end and the returning troops. Shortly afterwards, 200,000 people got the virus. 1,000 died.

It wasn’t until December of 2018 that public health officials began to educate people about how to stop the spread of the flu.

  • They told them about the danger of spreading it with coughs and sneezes.
  • They urged people who had it to quarantine at home and the rest to wear masks.
  • Stores and factories were asked to stagger when they opened and closed.
  • They asked people to avoid contact with others by walking to work and minimizing the time they spent in public.

Most of the deaths from the Spanish Flu occurred during the second phase. The Board of Health in New York City required those who had the flu to be isolated at home or in a city hospital.

Death From the Flu Was Pretty Horrific

People died within hours of showing systems. Their skin turned blue. Their lungs filled with fluid. No longer able to breathe, they died.

Since they had no specific medicine to treat the flu, they used what they had. One of these was aspirin.

Deadly Doses of Aspirin

The Surgeon General of the United States, the Navy and the American Medical Association – all recommended aspirin. The standard dose recommended by doctors and others in the medical profession was 30 grams. That was a deadly dose. (Today medical professionals say doses over 4 grams a day are toxic.)

That high a dosage of aspirin caused hyperventilation and a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Sometime later it was believed that this high dosage caused or hastened many of the deaths that occurred.

A third wave of the Spanish Flu appeared in 1919. Although people still died, this wave was not as severe. It subsided by that summer. That strain of the flu continued to appear in the fall and winters for the next 38 years.

Age Groups with the Highest Death Rates

The death rate from the Spanish flu was highest in those under 5 years of age, 20 to 40 years old and 65 and older. Surprisingly many of those who died were considered healthy before they got the flu.

Best Control Measures

We need to remember at this time not only were there no vaccines to protect people from getting infected, there were also no antibiotics to treat those infected.

The best control they had here in the US and throughout the world was to quarantine those who had it, educate people on good personal hygiene habits, use disinfectants, and limit public gatherings. People were ordered to wear masks, Schools, theaters and businesses were closed. These were not applied consistently.

The Spanish flu not only had a detrimental impact on families, it also pulled the American and World economies down.

By the summer of 1919, the pandemic had ended.

It’s Interesting How the Spanish Flu Got Its Name

Spain could not be blamed for the Spanish Flu. It did not come from there.

During World War I, newspapers in the United States, France, and England were not allowed to have articles about anything that might harm the war effort. Because this flu had a crippling effect on soldiers fighting the war, journalists could not let the public know about it.

Spain was a neutral country during World War I. Their journalists did not have the same restrictions as those in America, Britain, and France. They were some of the only journalists writing about the outbreak. For that reason, the flu became known as the Spanish flu.

Similarities Between the Spanish Flu and Covid-19

 With both, there have been 3 waves.

  • The Spanish Flu – March of 1918, September of 1918 and a third milder one in 1919
  • Covid-19 – First wave in January of 2020, Delta in July of 2020 and Omicron in November of 2021

The lives of all the people throughout the world were impacted.

The second wave of each was the most severe and deadly.

The actions to contain each virus was similar.

  • People were urged to wear face masks.
  • Social distancing was encouraged.
  • Schools, theaters and businesses were closed.
  • Those infected were urged to quarantine.

Whenever these were not followed, the viruses spread more quickly.

  • The Liberty Loan parade in Philadelphia after the end of World War I. Following it, 200,000 got the virus and 1,000 died.
  • The Biogen corporate meeting in February of 2020 which was linked to 20,000 cases of Covid-19.

While the strain of the Spanish Flu continued for the next 38 years, a vaccine was not developed of it until the 1940’s. In the years since then, it has become common for people, especially older ones, to get a flu shot every year.

There has already been an initial shot for Covid-19 and a booster.  It may be common for people to get a shot annually for it.

Just as the Spanish flu ended, Covid-19 will end.

Early on during the current pandemic, there were predictions life would never be the same again.  Life did return to normal after the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic. In fact, very few of us knew anything about it until Covid-19 came on the scene. Once this current pandemic is over, life will start return to normal. 50 years from now, people will have to research what Covid-19 was.


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is