Could the 1918 flu pandemic make a comeback?

Don’t look now, but it’s quite possible, if this bug escapes the lab…or the permafrost:

And if you want to know why that particular flu is so terrifying, here’s a documentary about its human impact, from people who survived:

And here is the opener to another PBS documentary, one that traces the epidemic’s origins — not to Spain, where it was initially thought to have arisen, but to Kansas, of all places:

Soldiers at a training camp in Fort Riley burned heaps of manure from a nearby farm, without any sanitary precautions — because who knew that deadly viruses could lurk in such places? Certainly not the US Army. But soon they realized that something was amiss, because young healthy men fell ill with influenza and died. And others, not sick yet, carried the virus with them to Europe, where the war was raging.

Spain was not embroiled in the war, and its press therefore not subject to wartime censorship; thus, outbreaks of the illness were freely reported there before they made headlines elsewhere. Hence the (erroneous) name.

At first people believed that the pandemic crossed over from Europe to the Americas, but now we know that it was most likely the other way around. The xenophobic belief that the “genetically inferior”, olive-skinned Spaniards were to blame, with their backwardness and poor hygiene, was utterly wrong. What was known in some parts as “the Spanish Lady” was actually a disease made in the good ol’ US of A…and it was the ignorance and neglect of white people, not those of other colors, that wound up costing so many millions of lives around the world.

And that could do so again, if the lessons of the past are not learned…and if the virus should ever escape laboratory confinement again.

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