In the fall of 1918, the Spanish flu was sweeping across the world and killed between 20 million and 50 million people — roughly half of the world’s population of 100 million.
Now researchers are drawing a direct link between the pandemic and a fierce strain of flu that hit babies in their early infancy and up until age 7.
Many commonly reported health problems were not associated with the Spanish flu, said Mariela Clottel, lead author of a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal about a study based on a nationwide health survey of children and youth in 16 Canadian provinces.
“Because it affected many different groups, we started to wonder if other factors were behind these health problems, and as we followed these children they remained unchanged for the past 60 years,” Clottel said in an interview.
Rather, the health problems reported by the more than 16,000 children included those affecting social, emotional and intellectual development. But after a few years, the child’s physical health grew better than those of the children without the flu, Clottel said.
“It’s a very complex situation and the Spanish flu probably helps drive some of the other issues that we’re concerned about, such as peer pressure and poverty,” she said.
The virus infected at least 20 countries in the early 20th century, including several in Europe, at a time when public health officials believed that they had learned how to contain and fight it.