Trivia: Influenza History – See If You Know It!
About one hundred years ago, the world experienced one of the most deadly scourges in history — the 1918 influenza pandemic. Do you know which of the following are true of the 1918 pandemic?
- More people died from it than from battle wounds in WWI.
- It started in the U.S.
- It was called “Spanish flu.”
- Scientists did not know what caused it at the time.
- None of these
- Two of these
- All of these
The answer is (g): All of these.
Calculating exactly how many people were infected and died from influenza during the 1918 pandemic is difficult for a variety of reasons; however, most estimates suggest that more people died from the pandemic than on the battlefields during World War I (WWI). The fact that the war was ongoing during the pandemic provides an interesting opportunity to explore the intersection of science and society. For example, because of the war, most countries hid the fact that the disease was widespread and they were losing soldiers to the illness. Because Spain was neutral, reports coming from that country more accurately depicted the severity of influenza circulating at the time. As a result, many people incorrectly believed that the pandemic started in Spain, oft referring to it as the “Spanish flu.” Historians and scientists now believe that the pandemic actually started in the U.S. — in Haskell County, Kansas.
Interestingly, at the time of the pandemic of 1918, scientists did not know what caused influenza. Some believed Bacillus influenzae (known today as Haemophilus influenzae) caused the illness because that bacteria could be found in the lungs of some who had died from the disease during autopsies. However, scientists later realized that a virus was causing influenza. Influenza virus was isolated in the early 1930s, and influenza type A, the type that causes pandemics, was identified in 1933.
The Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (VEC) has been educating about the science of vaccines for almost two decades. During this time, we have developed a variety of materials that may be of interest for your classroom, to share with the community or for your own family’s vaccination needs. We hope you will take a few minutes to see what we have to offer:
For the classroom
The Vaccine Makers Project (VMP) is the classroom program of the VEC. The dedicated website, www.VaccineMakers.org, offers a variety of free lessons about the immune system, infectious diseases and vaccines.
Influenza-related classroom resources include:
- A lesson about Influenza and HIV that focuses on viral replication and how these two viruses use genetic variability as a means of adaptation
- An eight-minute film clip about how Dr. Maurice Hilleman discovered antigenic shift and drift as well as predicted the 1957 influenza pandemic
- A 3 ½-minute animation that describes how influenza viruses undergo antigenic shift and drift (also part of the eight-minute clip above)
- Animation Expedition #9 – Antigenic shift and drift: How does influenza adapt?
- "How Diseases Spread" lessons - Two lessons that teach about the spread of disease and the 1918 Pandemic
About influenza and the vaccine
The VEC offers a variety of materials for the public and healthcare providers to address common questions and concerns related to influenza disease and vaccines, including:
- Influenza: What You Should Know — One in a series of Q&A sheets that address common vaccine and vaccine-safety questions.
- Just the Vax: Influenza — A series of 10 trivia questions related to influenza; additional question sets and an online game are available in the Just the Vax educator toolkit.
- A Look at Each Vaccine: Influenza Vaccine — Web-based information.
- Can a Flu Vaccine Give You the Flu? — This video is part of the Talking about Vaccines with Dr. Paul Offit series.
- How Are Strains of Influenza Chosen for the Annual Vaccine? — This video is part of the Parents PACK Science Made Easy series.
Stay up to date
Vaccine Makers Project updates offer periodic updates for educators. Sign up.
The Parents PACK program offers monthly updates for parents and the public. Sign up.