Reviewing the Flu that Killed 50 Million

The Flu that Killed 50 million is a BBC documentary on the worldwide pandemic of 1918. As someone who enjoys history and didn’t know much about the pandemic, I found The Flu that Killed 50 million to be an interesting documentary. I’m not entirely sure it’s completely accurate, but the documentary paints a reasonable picture of what drove the pandemic.

The most interesting part of the documentary is the way it explains how World War I was the key reason behind the pandemic spreading so quickly, covering the world, and ultimately killing tens-of-millions. The number of people traveling around the world in unsanitary conditions to continue fighting created ideal conditions to promote and spread illness. The lack of understanding of viruses and no antibiotics certainly made the 1918 pandemic much more deadly than a similar pandemic would be today, but the increased world’s population could still result in a pandemic killing millions worldwide.

The documentary posits the pandemic began when a Kansas farm boy contracted the virus from a bird shortly before joining the military. Then, several infected soldiers boarded ships for Europe. During the journey, the cramped, damp conditions were right for spreading illness.

While I accept the argument that the war was a big contributor to spreading the virus, I’m not sold on the idea that it originated in Kansas. There are other sources tracing the origin to China, England, and other countries. No matter how the virus began in humans, there is little question that war, numerous bad decisions on the part of governments, and medical systems that couldn’t cope made the pandemic the deadly event it became.

The Flu that Killed 50 million is certainly worth watching. It’s interesting to consider an event of history through the lens of today’s technology and speculate as to how things would be different. It’s also sad to realize war and general incompetence would still result in a pandemic today being far worse than it would need to become.

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