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Blindsided by Jonathan Gifford

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A Twentieth-Century Plague

At the beginning of this chapter, I wrote that the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–19 ranked as one of the world’s worst natural disasters (which it does) but that it was not so great a disaster as the Black Death. This is true, in terms of the percentage of the world’s population killed by both diseases. But to people caught up in the influenza pandemic it seemed as if the Black Death had returned. In many American towns and cities panic set in, made worse by the fact that it was public policy to deny that there was, indeed, an epidemic in America. The public health commissioner of Chicago said, in 1918, ‘It is our duty to keep people from fear. Worry kills more people than the epidemic.’4 It is unlikely that people were ...

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