Summary of Lessons from the 1918 Flu

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In a globalized world, people constantly traverse international borders and bring “microbial hitchhikers” along with them. In this context, even a plague that afflicts a small rural village can become an event of global concern. The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 offers some illuminating insights on what to expect should a pandemic strike. Alas, as the COVID-19 crisis illustrates, governments are remarkably ill-prepared for a global pandemic. Science journalist Laurie Garrett, speaking at TED in 2007 amid the bird flu scare, advises putting pressure on your political representatives to provide a credible plan.

About the Speaker

Science journalist Laurie Garrett won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the author of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health.



In a globalized world, an outbreak of an infectious disease in a village can become a cause for global concern.

Globalization has boosted the commercial airline industry, but it has also fostered a constant movement of people. As a consequence, people carry “microbial hitchhikers” across international borders. In the globalized world, an outbreak in a remote Indian village, say, is no longer just a local event but a global event that demands a global response and that changes the way people think about the risks such diseases create.

The symptoms of the bird flu (H5N1) resemble those of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed up to 100 million people.

H5N1 emerged from southern China in the mid-1990s but was not identified until 1997. By 2007, H5N1 had spread to some 55 countries and had a foothold in practically every region other than the Americas.

The bird flu killed 100% of infected domestic birds and is one of the deadliest diseases ever...

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