In the pale horse, pale rider Katherine Anne Porter recalls her experiences with the 1918 pandemic. I couldn’t help but remember the countless articles that emerged where we compared COVID-19 with the influenza pandemic, even though the strains of virus for both these diseases are biologically very different, the Spanish flu was caused by the H1N1 virus and COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, knowing the past can help us draw lessons and equip us with information we need to fight current epidemics.
The 1918 pandemic is known to be the most severe pandemic in modern history, this is due to the rapid spread of the disease like wildfire, infecting around 1/3rd of the world’s population and claiming the lives of around 50 million lives most of which were lost during the second wave.
During the influenza pandemic many cities also locally mandated the use of masks and carried out some sorts of social distancing measures, this definitely helped reduce the spread of the disease and improved how economies recovered after the pandemic. We also had a fair share of anti-maskers during the 1918 flu claiming the masks as a nuisance and unnecessary. These people caused more chaos and spread of the disease much like what’s happening today (lesson: wear masks please).
Additionally, during that time we also did not have antibiotics, ventilator, and other healthcare equipment, combined with the fact that because of the war the governments themselves had fewer resources to divert into fighting the pandemic, the mortality rate of the disease was very high. The flu pandemic then ended in the spring of 1919 when the immunity of people increased greatly to the virus, this gives us hope that perhaps soon we might be able to find a way to increase our immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and the current pandemic can end. But until then we need to closely follow the guidelines set by the CDC and WHO to ensure that the current pandemic doesn’t get worse like Spanish flu before the situation improves.
Sources used: CDC image gallery and https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/28/comparing-1918-flu-vs-coronavirus.html
Here’s an interesting video that talks about the economic effects of 1918 and what we can learn from it: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2020/05/18/what-would-a-second-wave-look-like.html