Doctors in the early twentieth century rejected Spanish flu as a & # 39; light infection & # 39 ;, just years before it killed 50 million people, scientists say.
Countless lives could have been saved if doctors had taken it seriously and worked out how to stop the virus before the disastrous outbreak in 1918, researchers said.
A study has shown that a mysterious illness had already been done in 1915, killing soldiers from the First World War in France and England.
But doctors didn't notice it was a form of flu, according to research by a flu expert and military historian, and missed a chance to start a vaccination program.
About 500 million people were infected with the Spanish flu after the pandemic broke out in 1918 (Pictured: patients in a hospital ward in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1918)
The global pandemic, which coincided with the First World War, which helped to spread the world, would kill more than 50 million people (Pictured: Sick patients in an improvised hospital in Oakland, California in 1918)
A medical group in Etaples, northern France, reported treating hundreds of people with an & # 39; unusually deadly disease & # 39; that in 1917 & # 39; complex & # 39; respiratory problems.
And in 1915 and 1916, soldiers were shot with the virus over the Channel in Aldershot, England.
But doctors did not understand the severity of the disease and did not predict the devastation it would cause, according to research from Queen Mary University in London.
& # 39; We have identified long-neglected outbreaks of infections & # 39 ;, said Professor John Oxford, a leading virologist.
& # 39; Outbreaks that were considered less important at that time can now be seen as increasingly important and a prelude to the coming disaster. & # 39;
The Spanish influenza pandemic in 1918 was the worst in recent history and was caused by a virus that originated in geese, ducks and swans.
Quickly distributed around the world, aided by traveling soldiers who fought in the First World War, it infected an estimated 500 million people in just two years.
Life could have been saved if doctors recognized the danger of Spanish flu when it first appeared a few years before the pandemic, experts say (Pictured: Australian Red Cross volunteers in Sydney during the 1918 flu outbreak)
WHAT WAS THE SPANISH FLU PANDEMIC?
The Spanish flu pandemic was a devastating outbreak of flu that spread throughout the world in 1918 and 1919.
It affected around 500 million people, about a third of the world's population at the time, and killed more than 50 million.
Minors and people over 65 were hit particularly hard, as well as 20 to 40 year olds, probably because so many soldiers who fought in the First World War caught it.
The pandemic got its nickname because it first received massive press coverage in Spain, while reporting was limited in the UK, US, France, and Germany to prevent war-moral damage to the war.
Experts think the outbreak was so deadly, because there were so many international journeys of the army, there were no vaccines and no antibiotics to treat secondary infections caused by the virus.
Flu can still be deadly, but there are effective injections and medication to control it in most patients.
This was one third of the world's population at that time. At least 50 million people died, with deaths highest among minors, 20-40 year-olds and over-65s.
There were no vaccines then and there were no antibiotics to treat infections caused by the flu, so doctors had no real way to treat it or keep the number of deaths low.
In a literature study from the beginning of the 20th century, Professor Oxford and his colleague Douglas Gill, military historian, found data about the flu bubbling under the surface.
About 60,000 soldiers were admitted to British and French army hospitals with flu-like symptoms in 1915 and 1916 – and about half died.
But the virus exploded rapidly and spread to military bases and to people around the world.
& # 39; In essence, the virus must be mutated & # 39 ;, said Professor Oxford. & # 39; It lost a lot of its virulence, but it got a clear ability to spread.
& # 39; Recent experiments with a pre-pandemic & # 39; bird flu & H5N1, deliberately mutated in the laboratory, have shown that only five mutations could have allowed this change to take place.
& # 39; We appreciate today that a unique feature of a pre-pandemic virus lies in the inability to spread from person to person.
& # 39; The teams at Etaples and Aldershot, although strong in clinical diagnosis, were misled by the lack of spread of this infection. Accordingly, they did not show flu as the underlying cause. & # 39;
The research was published in the journal Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics.
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