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Stigmatization and Scientific Inquiry in Tracking the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 in the United States

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No. 1, 2022

 

Stigmatization and Scientific Inquiry in Tracking the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 in the United States

(Abstract)

 

Tao Feiya, Zou Zetao and Yang Enlu

 

The United States was hard hit by the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Its “war-priority” national policy, unprecedented military training and worldwide troop movements and engagements created the conditions for the wide spread of the pandemic and at the same time severely weakened US preparedness. The unprecedented influenza pandemic threw American society into a state of extreme panic, giving rise to all kinds of hypotheses about its geographic origin. Some media turned scientific “tracking of the flu” into a succession of pejorative geopolitical exonyms such as “Spanish flu,” “Russian flu,” “German poison,” “Chinese plague,” etc. The groundless ascription of a geographic origin to the influenza pandemic was questioned at the time by insightful American medical professionals and even by Chinese medical experts. In the aftermath of the influenza pandemic, its tracking became a specialist issue in pure medical science, with the search for the pathogen of the pandemic becoming a priority. The discovery and genetic sequencing of the 1918 influenza pandemic virus by scientists in the US and other countries led to landmark advances in the discovery of the pathogen, so that the importance of tracing it back to its place of origin has taken a back seat. Although evidence of the geographic origin of the 1918 influenza pandemic is not conclusive, medical science has developed enough to disprove the ridiculous “geographical tracking” in the US during the pandemic. Historically, the ill-considered media statements during the pandemic not only hindered the scientific exploration of its origins and spread, but also disrupted normal international cooperation and international relations. We should learn the lesson of these events.