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January 16, 1991

America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918

Author Affiliations

Colebrook, Conn

Colebrook, Conn

JAMA. 1991;265(3):403-404. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460030109043

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Worldwide, between 21 and 50 million people died of influenza during the 1918 pandemic, and within the United States, Crosby figures the total number of deaths at about 650 000. These are substantial numbers, greater than the casualties of World War I. Yet, as the title of this book suggests, the affair has been almost forgotten.

Crosby wrote this book 15 years ago, and its reissue, with a new preface, presumably reflects how the ravages of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) have sensitized us to the reality of lethal epidemics once again. Yet the flu of 1918 and 1919 was utterly different from AIDS, spreading rapidly and laying low a large portion of the entire population in a given locality at once. Recovery followed for most of the victims, and with recovery came forgetfulness, even among families where deaths had occurred.

When the disease broke out, no one was prepared