Some of you may know that my new book, Enza, is a story that deals with the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic. But I wonder how many people have ever actually heard of it. I know I don’t remember the subject ever coming up in all of the history classes I took. Because I’m fairly sure that if it had, I’d have remembered it. The same way I remember learning about the Holocaust and other horrific events.
Estimates for the death toll, worldwide, range between twenty to forty million and fifty to one-hundred million, depending on the source. And even though most strains of influenza kill only the very young and the elderly, more than half the deaths in the 1818/1919 pandemic occurred in those 18-40 years old. Stanford.edu states, “More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.” And they’re the ones estimating the lower numbers.
I also learned, while watching the PBS documentary, that the Spanish flu killed more Americans than all of the wars in the 20th century. That’s almost unbelievable, isn’t it?
To put all of this in perspective, a number of sources claim that, “If 1918-19 mortality data are extrapolated to the current U.S. population, 1.7 million people could die, half of them between the ages of 18 and 40. Globally,those same estimates yield 180-360 million deaths…” Scary thought, isn’t it?
But it was the thought of those who perished nearly a century ago that nagged at me…and wouldn’t let me alone…until I began to write, and finally finished, Enza.
Given that I’d only penned romance novels until then, it was a tough subject for me to delve into. Especially when I only had two choices. Play the influenza aspect down, or try to keep the story true to what really happened. I chose the latter. It was a horrible time in our history and it deserves to be remembered. So do all of the people who lost their lives to it.