COVID-19 is not the first time a pandemic has hit the world; there has been a history of great suffering from pandemics. A pandemic has surfaced once again near the 100th anniversary of the 1918-1920 H1N1 Spanish Flu.
Advances in Science Still Not Enough Though science has progressed a great deal in the last century, 2020 is looking a lot like 1918. During the last 100 years, the world has learned about viruses, cured various diseases, made effective vaccines, and created elaborate public-health networks. Yet the entire world is again face-masked to the max, still unable to crush a sinister yet avoidable infectious disease as hundreds of thousands have already died from it.
Deathtoll The 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic, referred to as the “Spanish flu, or the Grippe” killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Considering the size of the world population in 1918 which was about 1.8 million, 50 million deaths was significant: 2.7% dead by 1920. Currently, the world population is 4 times greater than 1918 (approx 7.8 billion). Applying those death rates to today’s population would mean 200 million worldwide deaths. Modern science has quickly identified the new coronavirus, already mapped its genetic code, and developed a diagnostic test, thereby giving people a fighting chance to survive.
Lack of Treatment Unfortunately, just like 1918, the world still does not have any vaccine, treatment, or cure for Covid-19 as it continues to ravage the world. With no vaccine to protect against and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with pandemic infections, the world is not just seeing history being repeated, but is experiencing patterns getting repeated too.
Pandemics are not rare as they were never fully eradicated. The world must learn to live with them.
Other pandemics that hit the world earlier were also spread before a vaccine or medicine was developed. Pandemics like the Russian Flu Pandemic in 1889 (1 million deaths), the Asian Flu in 1957-58 (1.5 and 4 million deaths), and the Russian Flu Pandemic of 1977-78 (around 700,000 deaths) were all reported to have been caused by the same H1N1 virus that caused the Spanish flu as well.
Concern about a shortage of beds for patients was answered by using other spaces including schools, colleges, hotels, local government offices etc. during the Spanish Flu and that’s exactly what is being done now.
Etiology Like COVID-19, the 1918 pandemic came from a metastasis virus that jumped from animals to humans and had a similar pathology. However, comparing COVID-19 with Spanish Flu and other pandemics, the viruses causing these diseases are very different. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a Coronavirus, and not an influenza virus (H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin).
Lockdowns and Social Isolation This current pandemic has again pushed us to lockdowns, isolation, quarantine, and social distancing which people faced during the Spanish Flu in 1918. These preventive steps are familiar to us 102 years later as officials today instruct people to stay inside and avoid gatherings. All the control efforts worldwide are limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as good personal hygiene, use of surface disinfectants, face masks, and modifying social behavior.
Finally, it was believed that rubbing raw onions on your chest was a suggested remedy in 1918. Perhaps there is a final parallel here as well when you have the President of the United States suggesting an injection of disinfectant in your veins.