'Mass amnesia' of Spanish flu left world unprepared for COVID-19, scholars say

Mackenzie Bean - Print  | 

The Spanish flu upended the world in the early 20th century, yet the pandemic was largely absent from public discourse, literature, art or research in the coming decades, according to The New York Times.

The 1918 flu pandemic sickened about 500 million people, or about one-third of the world's population at the time, according to the CDC. In the U.S., about 675,000 people died — more than all of the century's U.S. war casualties.

However, there has been a "near total disappearance" of the pandemic in "society's collective memory," according to NYT. Some scholars argue this "mass amnesia" can, in part, explain why the world was so unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helps explain why few memorials for the Spanish flu pandemic exist.

"When I looked for memorials to the flu, I found nothing," Brian Zecchinelli, whose grandfather died in the pandemic, told NYT. "There was a plaque in Colorado and maybe something small in Australia, and that was it. I thought, 'This is crazy. This flu changed America forever. It changed the world forever.'"

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