Coronavirus and the Spanish Flu

The coronavirus has impacted the lives of many around the world. Although the effects of the virus (e.g. stay at home orders, wearing masks in public, social distancing seem unheard of and unique to a time like this, about 100 years ago in 1918, similar circumstances befell as a result of a virus known as the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu caused the 1918 influenza pandemic, which resulted in the deaths of more than 50 million people worldwide, including about 675,000 people in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, this virus also infected about one-third of the world population at the time, about 500 million people.

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic resembles some aspects of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Both of the viruses that caused these two pandemics were previously unknown, had no cure or vaccine at the time of the pandemic, changed the way people went about their daily lives, and were easily spread.

However, in 2020, the coronavirus affects a world that is more globalized and connected. In 1918, air travel was much less common and most people either traveled by ship or horse. A lot of people didn’t travel at all. Since air travel in 2020 is affordable and quick, it is a very common method of travel. However, air travel allows for a much faster transmission rate of the virus. In addition, the world population is much larger in 2020 than it was in 1918. In 2020, there are about 7.5 billion people, as opposed to the less than 2 billion people in 1918. Since there are so many more people, the world is much more densely populated, allowing for a faster spread of the virus, especially in densely populated cities and regions.

Although the coronavirus pandemic is different from the 1918 influenza pandemic, there is still much to learn from the latter. For instance, many pandemics have been forgotten, and much of the public is not educated about pandemics until one happens. Instead, governments should prepare, as they do for war, for the event of a pandemic or epidemic, with plans for fast elimination of the virus and sufficient funding to public health systems. In addition, government transparency helps to track and locate possible infections. Wearing masks and social distancing also help to prevent the spread of viruses. For example, during the influenza pandemic, people in San Francisco refused to wear masks in late 1918 and early 1919, resulting in a rapid increase in the amount of cases there. Additionally, cities, such as San Francisco and Philadelphia, held large gatherings when the number of cases dropped (though the virus was not fully eliminated), which caused large increases in cases in both cities. On the contrary, St. Louis, a city in Missouri, had a similar event planned, though they canceled it due to the pandemic. As a result, the case numbers in St. Louis did not rise rapidly like the case numbers in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Another lesson that was learned from the 1918 pandemic was that even healthy, young adults can die from viruses like this. People from ages 18 to 50 made up about two-thirds of the deaths caused by the Spanish flu. The 1918 pandemic also shows that using medications that are not proven to work against the virus is not helpful, if not harmful. In 1918, some treatments given to patients did not effectively work against the virus. In 2020, however, similar mistakes have been made. For example, hydroxychloroquine, a medication used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, has been thought of by some people as an effective treatment for coronavirus, even though these theories are unproven. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has promoted hydroxychloroquine, although a study found that some patients that took the drug began to have abnormal heart rhythms.

The Spanish flu in 1918 and the coronavirus in 2020 have both affected the world in great ways, and though they have similarities, they also are different, as they both have affected two completely different worlds. In 2020, there is much more technology available to people than there was in 1918. Also, the world is more connected in 2020, resulting in faster transmission between people. People have a lot to learn from both of these pandemics, and hopefully the world will learn from this pandemic so that people will be more prepared for the next pandemic or health crisis.