Flu History

We’re soon approaching flu season, which means that it’s time to start thinking about getting your flu vaccination. Over the past couple of decades, flu outbreaks have typically occurred during the winter, February being the most common month. However, the flu can happen as early as October and as late as May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a weekly map that monitors flu activity in the United States.

The flu can be fatal, which is just one of the things that makes it so terrifying. Another thing that makes the flu so scary is the fact that it is so variable. Basically, there is a new strain of influenza each year. What this means is that even if you resist the flu one year, there’s not guarantee you will resist it again the next year, because it’s a different virus.

While the flu is still dangerous today, it’s manageable thanks in part to the wide availability of flu vaccinations. This hasn’t always been the case though. There have been a number of terrible flu pandemics over the course of history.

The Spanish flu of 1918 was the most devastating flu pandemic in history. Current estimates suggest that between 50 and 100 million people worldwide were killed by this influenza strain. The exact number is difficult to pinpoint because of inadequate records, and unreported cases. We can feel sure, however, that the pandemic claimed more lives than World War I, which had just ended when the outbreak began.

From 1956 to 1958, the Asian flu claimed between 1 million and 4 million lives worldwide. It originated in China and reached the United States by 1957. This pandemic took roughly 69,000 lives in the U.S.

Ten years after the Asian flu, the Hong Kong flu broke out. This pandemic killed approximately 1 million people, 33,800 of those people in the U.S.

2009 was the most recent flu pandemic to claim lives on a large scale. While the initial estimates suggested there were 18,000 deaths, the most recent estimates for this pandemic place the death toll at 284,500 worldwide.

There have been many smaller pandemics in between these larger ones, and seasonal flu outbreaks happen every single year. Since the flu strain changes so regularly, it’s important to get an annual flu vaccination to help keep you, your family, and your community safe.