Spanish flu: A pandemic of influenza A (H1N1) in 1918-19 that caused the highest number of known flu deaths. More than 500,000 people died in the United States, and 20 million to 50 million people may have died worldwide. Many people died within the first few days after infection and others died of complications soon after. Nearly half of those who died were young, healthy adults. Also known as Spanish influenza.
The Spanish flu pandemic is the catastrophe against which all modern pandemics are measured. Many people died from this very quickly. Some people who felt well in the morning became sick by noon, and were dead by nightfall. Those who did not succumb to the disease within the first few days often died of complications from the flu (such as pneumonia) caused by bacteria.
One of the most unusual aspects of the Spanish flu was its ability to kill young adults. The reasons for this remain uncertain. With the Spanish flu, mortality rates were high among healthy adults as well as the usual high-risk groups. The attack rate and mortality was highest among adults 20 to 50 years old. The severity of that virus has fortunately not been seen again.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016