Something that has puzzled scientists about the 1918 pandemic is that nearly half the deaths were in young adults. Most often, those most vulnerable to death from influenza are the eldest and youngest, the weakest members of society, in other words. Mortality curves for the flu usually are “U” shaped, with the peaks occurring in the very young and very old, and the fewest deaths in between. The mortality curve for the 1918 pandemic is “W” shaped, with a third peak for those in the 20-40 age bracket, a pattern unique to this pandemic.
The “excess death” toll, that is, deaths that occurred over and above expected causes, largely resulted from influenza in 1918. And the young and healthy accounted for a disproportionate number of “excess deaths.”
Imagine the fear and foreboding felt when so many civilians, soldiers, and young parents were falling sick and dying. In my book Pandemic! I’ve tried to give the reader a sense of what it felt like to be a survivor. How did those who lived rebuild their lives and go on in the face of such tragedy and loss?
To find out more about why the Spanish flu killed so many young people, click on the CDC link to read “1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics”, by Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens.