How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life

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How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life

Post by maestrob » Tue Apr 27, 2021 11:58 am

Between 1920 and 2020, the average human life span doubled. How did we do it? Science mattered — but so did activism.

By Steven Johnson
April 27, 2021
Updated 9:59 a.m. ET

In September 1918, a flu virus began spreading through Camp Devens, an overcrowded military base just outside Boston. By the end of the second week of the outbreak, one in five soldiers at the base had come down with the illness. But the speed with which it spread through the camp was not nearly as shocking as the lethality. “It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes,” a camp physician wrote. “It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or 20 men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day.”

The devastation at Camp Devens would soon be followed by even more catastrophic outbreaks, as the so-called Spanish flu — a strain of influenza virus that science now identifies as H1N1 — spread around the world. In the United States, it would cause nearly half of all deaths over the next year. In what was already a time of murderous war, the disease killed millions more on the front lines and in military hospitals in Europe; in some populations in India, the mortality rate for those infected approached 20 percent. The best estimates suggest that as many as 100 million people died from the Great Influenza outbreak that eventually circled the globe. To put that in comparison, roughly three million people have died from Covid-19 over the past year, on a planet with four times as many people.

This fascinating article, too long to post here in full, with accompanying images and charts, continues at the link provided below. It is an in-depth survey of medical progress through several centuries by the narrator of an upcoming PBS series: ... e=Homepage

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