Spanish Flu: History, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Spanish flu is a deadly disease that has claimed tens of millions of lives worldwide in 1918 so the pandemic is dubbed “The Mother of All Pandemics “. This disease has even reached Indonesia and is endemic in the same year with an estimated hundreds of lives. What exactly is this disease? Read more about information about the history, symptoms, causes, until the treatment below! 

What is Spanish Flu?

Spanish flu is a category 5 influenza pandemic caused by influenza type A subtype H1N1 influenza viruses. The virus can spread quickly through the air so that its reach is broad and causes many people to be infected.

Symptoms of the Spanish flu of 1918 were initially marked by severe colds, sneezing, dry coughing, and headaches. After a few days the symptoms are followed by muscle aches and high fever. These symptoms can even develop into pneumonia after the fourth or fifth day of the virus spreading to the lungs, which makes patients less likely to survive.

Facts and History of Spanish Flu

Spanish flu is the most severe pandemic in history in the world. Although there is no global agreement on where the virus came from, this virus has spread throughout the world in 1918 to 1919.

Here are some explanations about the facts and history of the Spanish flu:

1. Origin of the name of the disease

As reported by the Historia page , that there is no one theory that mentions Spain as a place of origin of the virus that causes Spanish flu. According to Gina Kolata in her book, Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It , the name of this disease originated from the news of Spanish media which was quite open due to the neutrality of the country in World War I .

As a result, the news eventually spread outside of Spain, making the outbreak known as the “Spanish Flu” even though the Spaniards call this pandemic “French Flu”. This disease is also known as the 1918 flu pandemic.

Another case in Indonesia, the daily Sin Po and Pewarta Soerabaia had called this pandemic by several names, namely “Strange Disease”, “Secret Disease”, and “Cold Spanje”.

3. Viruses Spread to Indonesia

The history of the Spanish flu of 1918 recorded that the spread of the virus was suspected by land. According to records from the Dutch East Indies which is now Indonesia, the virus was first carried by passenger ships from Malaysia and Singapore which then spread through North Sumatra.

This virus even spread on Java Island in July 1918. After a few weeks, the virus finally spread massively to West Java (Bandung), Central Java (Purworejo and Kudus), and East Java (Kertosono, Surabaya, and Jatiroto). Outside the island of Java was not spared from this virus, such as Kalimantan, Bali, Sulawesi (Makassar), Maluku, and Papua.

2. Most victims

The rapid transmission of the virus, the limitations of medical facilities, and the absence of a vaccine for this disease make the death toll very high. The death toll is estimated at 21 million to 100 million in the world in the period from March 1918 to September 1919.

While in Indonesia, according to mortality data in Handelingen van den Volksraad in November 1918, as many as 402,163 people died from this disease.

4. Symptoms Are Like A Common Flu

According to Burgerlijken Geneeskundigen Dienst (BDG) or the Dutch East Indies Civil Health Service at the time, the symptoms of the 1918 Spanish flu resembled the common cold. Early symptoms of the disease are characterized by a heavy cold, dry cough, sneezing, and acute headaches. After a few days, the muscles ache and have a high fever.

Other common symptoms, including nosebleeds, vomiting, chills, diarrhea, and herpes. After four days or fifth, the virus spreads to the lungs and eventually develops into pneumonia.

5. Limitations of Medical Facilities

There is no effective drug or vaccine to treat this deadly flu. As a result of these medical limitations, the entire hospital was overwhelmed and even many patients were rejected due to room limitations.

Most doctors have never seen symptoms of such a disease so they are unable to do much. Doctors at that time could only suggest the use of quinine and aspirin as a heat-lowering.

While patients who are not accommodated ultimately only rely on traditional medicine, which is mostly ineffective.

Spanish Flu Symptoms

As explained earlier, this deadly disease has symptoms similar to ordinary flu which might cause difficulties in diagnosing the Spanish flu of 1918. The initial symptoms of this disease are usually mild and will heal if quickly treated, but after four to five days the condition can worsen even lead to death.

In general, here are a number of symptoms caused by the Spanish flu:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cold colds
  • Dry cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nosebleed
  • Throw up
  • Diarrhea
  • Herpes
  • Blue skin
  • Lung edema (lungs filled with fluid)
  • Pneumonia

Also Read: Singapore Flu: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Causes of Spanish Flu

This disease is caused by influenza type A subtype H1N1 viruses with genes from bird origin. Viruses can spread through the air so that they spread very quickly.

Regarding its origin, it is not known exactly where certain types of influenza are causing this pandemic. However, the spread of this virus was first observed in Europe, America and the Asian region before it spread to almost the entire world in a matter of months.

One unusual aspect of the 1918 Spanish flu was that this outbreak struck many previously healthy young people, an age group that is usually immune to infectious diseases.

Some believe that the cause of the Spanish flu is spreading because infected soldiers take the disease to other military camps throughout the country, then take it abroad. In March 1918, 84,000 American troops headed for the Atlantic and were followed by another 118,000 the following month. The spread of this virus is known through ships and trains packed with troops around the world.

When the troops take time off to go home in the summer, the virus spreads throughout the cities and villages in the soldiers’ home countries. Many of them were infected, both soldiers and civilians.

Risk Factors for Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu virus can affect anyone and of any age. Mortality is high in people younger than 5 years, 20 to 40 years, and 65 years and above. Deaths are high in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 years age group.

Also Read: Swine Flu (Swine Flu): Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Spanish Flu Treatment

There is no effective drug or vaccine to treat this deadly flu. At that time, residents were ordered to wear masks and reduce activity.

While the 19N H1N1 virus has been synthesized and evaluated, the properties that make it so damaging are not well understood. There is no vaccine to protect against influenza infections and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections.

Control efforts throughout the world are limited to non-pharmaceutical treatments such as isolation, quarantine, maintaining good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and restrictions on public meetings that are applied unevenly.

Can Use of Aspirin Treat Spanish Flu?

Without cold medicine, most doctors in the United States prescribe medicines that they feel will relieve symptoms, including aspirin. This is because of a spike in deaths attributed to the 1918 plague.

Medical professionals recommend that patients take up to 30 grams per day, a dosage that is now known to be toxic (by comparison, current medical advice is that doses above four grams are not safe).

Symptoms of aspirin poisoning include hyperventilation and pulmonary edema. It is now believed that many of these pandemic deaths are actually caused or accelerated by aspirin poisoning.

Complications of Spanish Flu

This deadly disease can affect the respiratory organs and can develop pneumonia. Pneumonia or other respiratory complications caused by the flu, usually a major cause of death.

Spanish Flu Prevention 1918

The outbreak of the virus that began in 1918 made the world’s population must take various precautions to control the spread of the virus.

Here are some steps to prevent Spanish flu:

  • Use a mask
  • Maintain personal hygiene
  • Using disinfectants
  • Restrictions on public meetings
  • Reducing activities (school until business activities are closed)
  • Quarantine
  • Insulation

Prevention is more or less the same as the steps taken to prevent the spread of the Corona virus or COVID-19 which became epidemic throughout the world in 2020.


Leave a Comment