Written by Vanya Doval – a grade 9 student.
In the wake of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, you may feel that the only way out is to prepare for the future and not dwell on the past. That may be right, however,as George Santayana rightfully said,”Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Exactly 100 years back, a similar pandemic- with the same flu like symptoms and possible origin- took 100 million lives as the deadliest virus known to man. It is crucial we know about this deadly influenza virus so that we don’t end up losing lives by making the same mistakes they did, because it is a fact that every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.
The Spanish flu was a deadly influenza pandemic that lasted from January 1918 to December 1920. It infected approximately 500 million people- including important personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Walt Disney , Franklin D Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The death toll is estimated to have ranged anywhere between 17-50 million , possibly as high as100 million. This outbreak, unlike our current coronavirus one- which disproportionately kills the very young and very old- resulted in a higher mortality rate for young adults. The pandemic, unfortunately , coincided with World War I and hence to maintain morale,censors minimized early reports of mortality in Germany, United Kingdom , France and United States. In neutral Spain, however, papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects , including the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII. This created the false impression that Spain was affected the most and gave rise to the pandemic’s nickname “Spanish flu”. Some analyses have shown the virus was only potentially life-threatening because it triggered a cytokine storm, which ravaged the stronger immune system of young adults. Other doctors however disagree and believe it was superinfection that killed most of the victims.
What are the similarities between Spanish Flu and the Novel Coronavirus ?
Both diseases seem to have originated from an animal source. Spanish flu genes suggest that the deadliest wave of the outbreak came from a bird ,though the specifics of the same are unknown. Health experts also suspect a bat originally hosted the coronavirus strain before it started to infect humans.
Another comparison is that the Spanish Flu became much more dangerous after an apparent mutation. Likewise, strains of the novel coronavirus are known to mutate easily.
The initial symptoms of the Spanish flu included a sore head and tiredness, followed by a dry,hacking cough; a loss of appetite; stomach problems; and then, on the second day, excessive sweating. Next, the illness could affect the respiratory organs, and pneumonia could develop. The complications, much like coronavirus, were brought around by respiratory complications or pneumonia.
Initial American federal government’s responses in the first weeks of this current pandemic bore an eerie resemblance to those during the Spanish Flu. Where political considerations prevailed over public health and contributed to the carnage. This early blunder by the United States has lead to it overtaking China and Italy in number of coronavirus cases.
Only in recent days have those hundred-year-old lessons been heeded. Well after the coronavirus had spread over the only superpower of the world, President Donald Trump said in a nationally televised interview that he had a “hunch” that the infected people would get better by “going to work”. This was much like President Woodrow Wilson and his supporters, who were obsessively protective of public morale and the existential need for unwavering support of the effort to fight and win World War I. Economic considerations such as manufacturing productivity would be at risk if large numbers of sick workers stayed home from their jobs making ships, guns and boots etc. So, in the face of a highly contagious virus, workers were urged to stay on the job. As a result, people fell dead on factory floors and spread the disease to their coworkers.
Trump administration’s reluctance to address travel restrictions and limit public gatherings was reminiscent of the stubborn refusal of 20th century Massachusetts politicians to cancel parades and rallies to celebrate war victories and raise money to fund the fight. These gatherings created a hovering cloud of sweat and breath and droplets of death.
What was the main reason for the abnormally high mortality rate of the Spanish flu?
Historians believe a major reason for the expansion of the virus was the World War I conflict. On the Western Front, soldiers living in cramped, damp and dirty conditions became ill. This was a direct result of weakened immune systems and malnourishment. Their illnesses, which were called “la grippe” were infectious, and spread among the ranks. During the summer of ’18, as troops began to return home on leave, they brought with them the undetected virus that had made them ill. The virus spread across towns and cities, infecting both civilians and villagers. It was especially difficult on young adults, between the ages of 20 and 30, who had previously been healthy. Hence, some doctors feel the virus was no more dangerous than other influenza outbreaks and the reasons for the high mortality rates were malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals with poor hygiene that promoted bacterial superinfection.
What can we learn from the earlier pandemic 100 years ago?
The most critical lesson that we can learn from the Spanish Flu era is that government and society can never be sufficiently prepared for a pandemic. Very many a times, math overwhelms science and cases multiply before doctors can stop them. Next thing you know , undertakers are running out of caskets.
Hence, it is important that administrations around the world don’t focus on political objectives- the economy, the stock market and ultimately, re-election- and instead make efforts to keep its citizens alive. Mankind paid a terrible price for creating the illusion of normalcy during the last pandemic that ravaged our Earth, lets not make that same mistake again. It is better to overreact and save lives than lose lives by remaining in denial.
Written by Vanya Doval.
Vanya is an extremely well-read and politically aware student of grade 9. She loves to write on socio-political issues.
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