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The Great Influenza

great_influenzaThe Great Influenza is definitely a book that has some surprises for the reader. Certainly the book provides a detailed history of the world’s worst pandemic. It clearly describes the spread of the disease worldwide including its multiple waves. There is a concise clinical description of the virus and an excellent discussion of its unique characteristics that make it so lethal. The surprise is the contextual information that explains why the virus spread so rapidly. The misnomer Spanish influenza occurred at nearly the “perfect storm” of several factors.

First factor (described in great detail) was the sorry state of American medicine and practitioners at the beginning of the 20th century. In itself, this section of the book is worth the read as a history of the development of American medical practice.

The second factor was the draconian information practices put in place by the Wilson administration for WWI. The news media was prohibited from printing any negative information (even though truthful) under severe penalties. Thus, any reporting of a pandemic was reported as “ordinary flu” or not reported at all.

Finally, the rapid mobilization and movement of troops provided a near perfect environment for the virus to spread. Over crowded barracks of soldiers from across the country with poor sanitation promoted the spread of the flu. Despite dire warnings from the Army Surgeon General, Army leadership prioritized military needs over the disease risks.

Overall, The Great Influenza is an excellent reference for an important time in our history.

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