Influenza, a common but dangerous virus, has repeatedly left its mark on the history of not only New Hampshire, but the entire world.

From the epidemic that broke out in 1493, after the arrival of Christopher Columbus – which greatly diminished the population of native people in the Americas, according to a Cambridge University Press publication – to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, millions of people have died from the flu, according to Influenza Virus Net.

In 1981, Keene State College had an alarmingly high number of flu cases at the Health Center. According to a 1981 article from the New York Times, a strain of the influenza H3N2, or “A-type Bangkok” was hitting the country hard. In an article released by Informed, a Cuban project for the National Center for Medical Sciences Information, it said from November,1980, to January, 1981, “Mortality due to pneumonia and influenza has exceeded epidemic limits for three consecutive weeks.”

That same strain, H3N2, is what’s currently dominating this year’s flu season. In a recent Washington Post article, CDC flu expert Daniel Jernigan said, “Of the viruses we hate, we hate H3N2 more than the other ones.” More people are in the hospital with the flu this season than in nearly a decade, the Washington Post article stated.

However, epidemic-levels of influenza occur fairly regularly throughout history.

One particularly famous and extremely lethal outbreak of influenza H1N1, also known as the “Spanish flu pandemic.” Influenza Virus Net reported, “This pandemic has been described as ‘the greatest medical holocaust in history’ and may have killed as many people as the Black Death.” Spanish flu is estimated to have killed between 20 to 100 million people globally between 1918 and 1919. Influenza Virus Net also said that the strain was highly contagious and the pandemic is described as “the greatest medical holocaust in history.”

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the pandemic came in three waves. The first was during World War 1, at a U.S. camp in Kansas. When troops from that base arrived in western Europe, they brought Spanish flu with them. The virus first started at the base in March and had spread all the way to Poland by July.

The second wave came over the summer, starting in August. This involved pneumonia and could kill an infected person in as little as two days. Encyclopædia Britannica reported, “at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, U.S., six days after the first case of influenza was reported, there were 6,674 cases.” The third and final wave stretched from winter to spring.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Spanish flu deaths were most common in children under five years old, healthy adults between ages 20 and 40 and those aged 65 years and up. The CDC reported that the deaths of healthy people was a very distinct aspect of Spanish flu.

Years later, in East Asia, another influenza pandemic occurred from 1957 to 1958. According to the CDC, influenza H2N2, or “Asian Flu,” began in Singapore in February, spread to Hong Kong by April and came to the United States in the summer. The CDC estimated that Asian Flu killed 1.1 million people worldwide and 116,000 in the U.S.

Hong Kong was hit with a flu pandemic again, ten years later. In 1968, H3N2 – the same strain that affected Keene in 1981 and is leading this flu season – killed between one and four million people, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

In 2009, yet another pandemic occurred. This strain, known as the H1N1pdm09 virus or “swine flu,” was not protected against by vaccines at that time because it was so different from the other flu strains which had been circulating in recent years, according to the CDC. Very few young people at the time had any natural resistance to swine flu, however, the CDC reported, many people over the age of 60 had antibodies against the virus. The CDC estimated that there were about 60.8 million cases of the virus and hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide; about 80 percent of those deaths were people under 65 years of age.

Abbygail Vasas can be contacted at

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