Reading Comprehension | The Spanish Flu - Causes and Origin

Develop your reading skills. Read the following text about the Spanish flu and do the comprehension questions

Spanish flu

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was a deadly pandemic in recent history. It spread worldwide during the year 1918-1919. The virus infected 500 million people – about a third of the world's population at the time. The death toll was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide, possibly as high as 100 million. This makes it the severest pandemic in human history.

What caused the Spanish flu?

The outbreak of the Spanish flu was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Historians now believe that World War I could have been partly responsible for spreading the virus. Lack of hygiene and malnourishment may have also been responsible for weakening the immune system. For example, a 2007 analysis of medical journals from the period of the pandemic found that the viral infection was no more aggressive than previous influenza strains. Instead, malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, and poor hygiene, all exacerbated by the recent war, promoted bacterial superinfection.

Where did the Spanish flu start?

There is no agreement about the origin of the virus. The 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States, and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world. It is believed that censorship was the main reason why this pandemic was referred to as the Spanish flu. To maintain morale, World War I censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. However, newspapers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit. This gave rise to the name 'Spanish flu'. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic's geographic origin, with varying views as to its location.

Nearly a century after the Spanish flu struck, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on scientists, national authorities and the media to follow best practices in naming new human infectious diseases to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies, and people. More modern terms for this virus include the "1918 influenza pandemic," the "1918 flu pandemic," or variations of these.

Death records

At least 50 million died worldwide.It is interesting to note that most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill the very young and the very old, with a higher survival rate for those in between, but the Spanish flu pandemic resulted in a higher than expected mortality rate for young adults.

Spanish Flu vs Coronavirus

Like the Spanish flu, the coronavirus is also very contagious and spread quickly worldwide. There are however major differences.

  • Both diseases are respiratory infections with common symptoms. Yet, they belong to different families of viruses.
  • The groups affected by the two diseases differ. The coronavirus is more threatening to elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions. By contrast, the Spanish flu was most deadly for young adults.
  • During the Spanish flu, scientists couldn't isolate the particular virus type that caused the pandemic as quickly as it should have been. Nowadays, with much more advanced scientific knowledge, the coronavirus was easily detected and vaccines are being developed by groups of scientists worldwide.
  • The measures to stop the effect of the Spanish flu such as isolation, quarantine, use of disinfectants, and social distancing, were applied unevenly. The Coronavirus pandemic, however, forced most countries of the world to follow these measures.

Source: Wikipedia


  1. The Spanish flu is caused by a virus related to birds.
    a. True
    b. False
  2. The Spanish flu originated in Spain.
    a. True
    b. False
  3. It was a deadly disease for young adults.
    a. True
    b. False
  4. The coronavirus and the Spanish flu are similar in every way.
    a. True
    b. False

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