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Will there be a definitive conclusion to this pandemic? Here’s how the Spanish flu ended

Scenes from a camp at Lawrence, Maine, where patients were given fresh air treatment during the Spanish flu.
Scenes from a camp at Lawrence, Maine, where patients were given fresh air treatment during the Spanish flu. (Getty Images)

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rage across the country, many are probably are asking the same question: “When will this end?”

A good barometer of when and how the pandemic will end comes from the last major pandemic, roughly 100 years ago -- the Spanish flu.

Here are some key highlights of how the Spanish flu ultimately ended, and how it might correlate to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1.) There was no declaration that it was over.

History says the Spanish flu lasted from February 1918 until April 1920, but there wasn’t a definitive statement that the pandemic was over, according to Time. Basically, the pandemic came to a halt when the virus had infected enough people around the world to where it became harder for the virus to find new hosts. Of course, by then, the Spanish flu did unspeakable damage, infecting 500 million people and killing 50 million. (Can we agree that nobody wants to see a repeat of those numbers?)

2.) There wasn’t a vaccine that ended it.

Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no race for a vaccine among companies around the world. With technology and research being nowhere close to what it is now, there was no waiting around for a vaccine to help quell the Spanish flu.

3.) The end might have been just as much mental as physical.

Historically, pandemics can end not necessarily because a disease or virus has been vanquished, but because people simply learn to live with it and thus don’t talk about it, according to the New York Times.

That might have been the case with the Spanish flu, as people’s tolerance to the disease and willingness to social distance, wash hands and wear masks throughout increased.


Time will tell how and when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, although it’s widely believed it will be a combination of effective vaccines, medicines and a certain level of exposure, according to Time.


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