A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how some things never seem to change. For example, the way people were advised to prevent the Spanish influenza during 1918-20. The advice back then was about the same as it has been lately – staying inside, closing certain establishments, etc., etc. This week, I think it might be interesting to see what else was going on during that time since there appear to be a lot of parallels.
Here, for example, is the headline in The Seattle Daily News for October 5, 1918: “Churches, Schools, Shows Closed.” The sub-head reads, “Epidemic Puts Ban on all Public Assemblies.” Sound familiar? Here’s some of what a publication from “The Doughboy Foundation” had to say about those grim days, “…in the autumn of 1918 our nation was engaged fiercely in two essentially national campaigns: the Muse-Argonne offensive, and the fight against the terrible influenza that was sweeping the nation and the world. The battle in France would lead later that year to the end of the fighting in Europe in World War I. The struggle with the epidemic would take much longer to end. In neither case was the result rapid or without tragic cost. But in both cases, American resolve, ingenuity, and teamwork brought us through the crisis stronger than ever.”
Here’s more from Wikipedia about the virus from a century ago, “The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting more than 12 months from spring 1918 to early summer 1919, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time.” Pictures from that era are strikingly similar to the ones seen today, people with their faces covered in masks. When it was all said and done approximately 50,000,000 people worldwide died of the dreaded Spanish Influenza!
Here are some lessons that we should learn from CNN Health: “Don’t stop social distancing too soon. During the Spanish flu pandemic, people stopped distancing too early, leading to a second wave of infections that was deadlier than the first, epidemiologists say. In San Francisco, when the number of Spanish flu cases was almost down to zero, the city fathers said, ‘Let’s open up the city. Let’s have a great big parade downtown. We’ll all take off our masks together,’ epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant said. Two months later, because of that event, the great influenza came back again roaring. On the other side of the US, Philadelphia suffered a similar fate. Even though 600 sailors from the Philadelphia Navy Yard had the Spanish flu in September 1918, the city didn’t cancel a parade scheduled for September 28, 1918. Three days later, Philadelphia had 635 new cases of the Spanish flu, according to the University of Pennsylvania Archives & Records Center. Quickly, Philadelphia became the city with the highest influenza death toll in the US, Penn research states.”
Another lesson was that young, healthy adults can also be victims of the Coronavirus. “The 1918 pandemic killed many young adults who were otherwise healthy,” said John M. Barry, professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. About two-thirds of the deaths back then were among people ages 18 to 50, “and the peak age for death was 28. One reason the 1918 flu was so deadly for young adults was because the outbreak started during World War I, when many soldiers were in barracks and in close proximity with each other. The US military training camps obviously had high mortality,” Barry said. There’s no world war now, but important lessons remain: Young, healthy people are not invincible.
Yet another lesson is trying unproven drugs on the virus. “There have been major medical and technological advances in the past 102 years. But the Spanish flu and the novel coronavirus pandemics share two major challenges: the lack of a vaccine and the lack of a cure. Back in 1918, remedies varied from the newly developed drugs to oils and herbs,” according to a Stanford University research report. “The therapy was much less scientific than the diagnostics, as the drugs had no clear explanatory theory of action. In 2020, there is widespread speculation about whether hydroxychloroquine – a drug used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis – could help coronavirus patients.” But hydroxychloroquine is still being tested and might not even work against Coronavirus. Worse yet, it could even cause harm to vulnerable groups of people.
Generally speaking, there’s no reason to think that the precautions being taken should abandoned until a cure is found. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, a public health officer, said, “If we do the right things and do what we know works: we’re able to maintain social distancing, facial coverings, and making sure our most vulnerable members of the population are protected, we might be able to reopen safely and we might just get through it.” Unlike 1918, a pandemic influenza vaccine will likely be available within a few months. Finally, we need to remember the local and national lessons from the past so we do not repeat them. There’s a lot to be learned from the 1918 pandemic. Some of the parallels are only too obvious.
That’s — 30 — for this week.