The 19th-century Spanish Flu, today’s Deja Vu?

The Spanish Flu was undoubtedly one of the most fatal epidemics that rocked the Late Modern Period (1750-1945). In the year 1918, the world was unexpectedly affected by a massive surge in cases of the Spanish Flu (Influenza), an epidemic caused by the deadly H1N1 virus, which affected a staggering 500 million people, approximately a third of the world’s population at the time while killing over 50 million people around the world. 

The Spanish Flu of the 1900s has an obtrusive likeness to the pandemic that the world is being massively affected by today, the coronavirus (COVID 19), which funnily enough was a respiratory disease too, characterised by bouts of chills, fever and fatigue. Like the coronavirus, it was a contagious disease that spread via droplets in the air, and in serious cases caused a lack of oxygen in the body, which lead to death. 

Post the outbreak of the virus, the world’s then weak health care infrastructure seemed to collapse under the massive number of patients affected by the virus. Hospitals, counties and governments found themselves overwhelmed with cases that were spreading like wildfire. Much like the modern-day novel coronavirus (COVID-19), governments found themselves resorting to a number of extreme actions to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus, which was massively exacerbated by the ongoing World War taking place at the time. Several detailed accounts describe scenes of crowded trenches filled with soldiers unable to avail health care services amidst the chaos of the war. Others describe repeated events of world health care systems buckling due to the sheer magnitude of the outbreak. 

The Influenza virus eventually died down, taking with it millions of lives before it did. Desperate attempts to alleviate symptoms were taken at the time, medicines such as Aspirin were distributed in large quantities, but to no avail. It remains a fact that the cure for the virus was never found; those affected either died or developed immunity to fight the virus. 

Today, once again, we find ourselves in a situation with a glaring similarity. Leaders and health care experts around the world, despite their best efforts, have been unable to control the rapid spread of the virus. Health care systems continue to scramble in a race against time to find the cure for this virus that is affecting not only the lives of people but economies of countries as well. But, there remains far more hope today than ever. Unlike the influenza virus, efforts to identify the scope and genome data of the virus have been far more successful. Scientists believe that while the cure and vaccine will take a few more months to develop at the very least, we are undoubtedly better equipped today than we were 100 years ago. 

Citations: 

https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/1918-flu-pandemic

https://www.livescience.com/spanish-flu.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/how-cities-flattened-curve-1918-spanish-flu-pandemic-coronavirus/

https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/governance/between-1918-19-spanish-flu-and-covid-19-not-much-has-changed-71425

http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/body-and-mind/the-spanish-influenza-pandemic-and-its-relation-to-the-first-world-war/

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