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History of Influenza in the United States

The influenza COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak of 2020 has piqued interest the outbreak of 1918-1919 in the U.S. that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans.(1) Annually, the flu virus kills an estimated 30,000 Americans, but every few years, a mutation of the virus causes a huge spike in the annual death rate.(2)

There have been several devastating outbreaks recorded in U.S. history. In the 1680’s and 1690’s, influenza struck Europe and America and people died as if in a plague. In Massachusetts in 1699, Cotton Mather wrote , “The sickness extended to almost all families. Few or none escaped, and many dyed especially in Boston, and some dyed in a strange or unusual manner, in some families all were sick together, in some towns almost all were sick so that it was a time of disease.”(3)

The mid-1800’s saw a resurgence of flu worldwide but the largest pandemic of the 19th century hit the U.S. in 1889-1890. Known as the “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu” the most severe infections were reported from December 1889 through December 1890. The first cases were reported in New York in December 1889, but quickly spread across the nation along the interconnected rail lines. The virus killed nearly 13,000 people in the U.S. but continued to recur for years, but with less virility as the population became immune.(4)

(1) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22148/

(3) The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

(4) https://www.history.com/news/1889-russian-flu-pandemic-in-america

The January 12, 1890, edition of the Paris satirical magazine Le Grelot depicted an unfortunate influenza sufferer bowled along by a parade of doctors, druggists, skeleton musicians and dancing girls representing quinine and antipyrine

File:Everyone has Influenza – The Round of Doctors and Druggists.jpg. (2018, July 6). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 14:49, March 25, 2020 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Everyone_has_Influenza_-_The_Round_of_Doctors_and_Druggists.jpg&oldid=309860644

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