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Skeletal Remains Debunk Myth Surrounding 1918 Flu Pandemic

A Picture from 1918 Flu Pandemic
A picture from the 1918 flu pandemic. Credit: GPA Photo Archive / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

When we read the history of worldwide disease outbreaks, the flu pandemic of 1918 stands out as something unusual. Many people believe it mainly affected healthy adults in the prime of their lives rather than just those who were already weak or ill.

This idea has shaped scientific studies and writings for many years. However, some fresh research published on October 9th in the journal PNAS challenges this belief. It raises the possibility that this assumption might not be accurate at all.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and McMaster University studied the bones of about four hundred individuals. They discovered that, in 1918, just like in 2020, people who had faced challenges such as environmental problems, social issues, or lack of food were much more likely to get sick when a new virus appeared.

These findings show us how today’s communities can prepare for pandemics. They also highlight a potential problem with merely looking at written records in hopes of learning about history, it was written in

Sharon DeWitte, who is a professor of anthropology at CU Boulder and an expert in bioarchaeology, stated that the research doesn’t back up the notion that the 1918 flu mainly took the lives of healthy young folks.

Instead, we discovered that this pandemic, like many others in history, mostly affected people who were not very strong or healthy, Professor DeWitte further explained.

Flu pandemic of 1918 killed more than 25 million people

In a mere two years, the 1918 flu pandemic affected almost one-third of the worldwide population and caused the deaths of over twenty-five million individuals.

There is much writing on how it appeared as if the flu pandemic targeted primarily young and active people. In Thomas Wolfe’s famous novel from the flu era, Look Homeward Angel, one character sadly said, “It seems to get the big, strong ones first.”

A doctor from a U.S. Naval Hospital mentioned that the illness was just as deadly for healthy adults as it was for young kids and elderly, weakened individuals. However, even with these stories, researchers couldn’t locate any scientific evidence to back up these beliefs.

Sharon DeWitte said it might be one of those ideas that starts as common knowledge and keeps getting mentioned in writings until it is accepted as fact. Therefore, the question is: “Do we really know what we think we know?”

She pointed out that when we look at historical records, the focus is often on the experiences of more fortunate individuals while those of women, children, and marginalized or less privileged persons are overlooked.

Collecting skeletal remains provides a broader view of society, including different types of people. These remains convey what a person went through during their lifetime, including such things as injuries, illnesses, and even nutritional problems.

These experiences leave marks on their teeth and bones, which can tell us a lot about them, according to

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