Similarities And Differences Between The 1918 Outbreak And Now
The Spanish flu is frightening because it demonstrates that in a reasonably modern society, a pandemic killing tens of millions of people is very plausible. But that reasonably modern society was still much more primitive when it came to medicine and public health than the world of today.
Here are a few facts about public health in the year 1918:
- We did not know that influenza is caused by a virus, and in fact the scientist Richard Pfeiffer had convinced most of the medical community that it was caused by bacteria it wasnt until 1933 that researchers proved conclusively that the flu is a viral infection.
- Antibiotics capable of treating flu-related pneumonia infections were 10 years from being discovered.
- Antiviral drugs were many decades from being developed the first came out in 1963.
- There was no World Health Organization, and efforts to surveil and track the outbreak of new diseases were incredibly rudimentary.
- Most countries in Europe were under war censorship regimes that limited the spread of accurate, lifesaving information about the flu outbreak.
One way we can compare the two outbreaks is by looking at case fatality rates: the share of infections that lead to death. This is always difficult to estimate because there are likely more infections than have been identified by medical authorities. According to Johns Hopkins researchers, as of this writing there have been 111,363 cases of Covid-19 and 3,892 deaths, for a case fatality rate of about 3.5 percent.
The Search For A Vaccine
When the flu hit eastern North America in the fall of 1918, the idea of vaccination as a treatment was already in the minds of many researchers. Although there were benefits to having different vaccines produced at the same time, this made it challenging for health practitioners to determine which, if any, to provide patients. Most vaccines on the market claimed to be preventative, while a few also suggested therapeutic value. Because of the sheer number of options available to physicians, many elected to use vaccines as a last resort rather than for their preventative value.
Guilford Reed was a professor at Queens at the time, first in the Department of Biology and then in the Department of Pathology and Bacteriology. On October 1, 1918, Dr. Reed began researching a potential vaccine by taking naso-pharyngeal swabs of 70 patients with influenza. He analyzed the swabs for their bacterial content and found that 94 per cent of the swabs had Bacillus influenzae 50 per cent Pneumocococci 56 per cent green-producing Streptococci and 31 per cent Moraxella catarrhalis. From the bacterial species, ten strains of B. influenzae and Pneumococci, along with five strains of Streptococci and M. catarrhalis were grown in pure cultures on agar with rabbits blood.
The Deadliest Flu: The Complete Story Of The Discovery And Reconstruction Of The 1918 Pandemic Virus
- Background: The deadly legacy of the 1918 pandemic and its importance for global efforts to prepare against future pandemic threats.
- Part 1 Discovering a Lost Killer: The story of a virus hunters lifelong pursuit to discover the deadliest pandemic flu virus in human history.
- Part 2 Building the Blueprint: The story of how a team of U.S. scientists decoded and assembled the genome of the 1918 virus.
- Part 3 The Reconstruction: The story of how a CDC microbiologist reconstructed the live 1918 pandemic virus in a secure CDC laboratory to unravel its secrets and protect against future pandemics.
- Part 4 Learning from the Past: How the world has progressed since the 1918 pandemic and the challenges posed by future pandemics.
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What Can We Learn From The 1918 Pandemic
Although the current pandemic can at times be overwhelming and scary, the world is far better prepared to handle it than it was 100 years ago. While COVID-19 is an entirely different beast than the Spanish flu, many strides are being taken to reduce COVID-19s impactand one day, like the Spanish flu, it will no longer impact daily life.
The Influenza Pandemic In 1918 Killed Over 50 Million People Globally
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Deaths related to Covid-19 in America have surpassed the toll of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 675,000 people, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
US recorded over 676,000 deaths since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, crossing the estimated 675,000 deaths from last century’s influenza pandemic.
Ravaged by the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, the country is now reporting at least 2,000 deaths a day on average, the highest since March 2021.
States such as Florida, Texas, California, Mississippi and Alabama have reported the most number of Covid-related deaths so far.
The overwhelming number of fatalities have been seen as an indicator that the US government has failed to vaccinate most of the countrys eligible population.
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How Long Did The 1918 Pandemic Last
The 1918 pandemic began in the spring of 1918 and lasted through the summer of 1919, roughly 18 months total. In that time, there were three major waves of the pandemic. The first wave happened in the spring of 1918 when the virus was introduced. The second and most severe wave occurred in the fall of 1918. The third and final wave lasted through the winter and spring months of 1919.
Scientists anticipate similar waves throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019, with the first wave of the pandemic hitting in the winter and spring months of 2020.
Spanish Flu In Canada
The virulent Spanish flu, a devastating and previously unknown form of influenza, struck Canada hard between 1918 and 1920. This international pandemic killed approximately 50,000 people in Canada, most of whom were young adults between the ages of 20 and 40. These deaths compounded the impact of the more than 60,000 Canadians killed in service during the First World War . Inadequate quarantine measures, powerlessness against the illness, and a lack of national coordination between military, political, public health authorities hindered the efforts of countless doctors, nurses, volunteers, and members of charitable organizations who were risking their lives to ensure that a large number of the ill and their families survived. The Spanish flu was a significant event in the evolution of public health in Canada. It led to the creation of the federal Department of Health in 1919, which established a partnership between the various levels of government and made public health a shared responsibility.
Criticized for failing to provide resources and coordination to public health authorities across the country, the federal government responded to the crisis by founding the Department of Health in 1919.
Backgrounder last update: 2018-12-18
- Date modified :
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What Are The Differences And Similarities Between The Spanish Flu And Covid
The Spanish flu and COVID-19 viruses arent the same. They are similar in that they’re both respiratory viruses spread through breathing in infected respiratory droplets. In addition, they both did and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome . They are also similar in the ways that governments tried to fight them:
- Avoiding delays in diagnosis.
- Protective clothing like masks and gloves.
- Hygiene practices like thorough hand washing.
COVID-19 has killed as many people in the U.S. as the Spanish flu did. But the population of the U.S. is now three times more than it was in 1918, so Spanish flu killed a larger percentage of Americans than COVID-19 has to date. If we look at the cause of death, people who had Spanish flu generally died from pneumonia and people who had COVID-19 died from multiple organ failure. Even in the case of people who developed ARDS after infection by each virus, the fatality rate was 100% for Spanish flu, as compared to 53.4% for COVID-19 because there were no treatments for infected individuals. The Spanish flu was also more deadly to healthy younger people, while COVID-19 has mostly affected people who are 65 years or older who have other diseases until the delta variant, which is infecting younger and healthier people more than prior COVID-19 variants.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/21/2021.
Why The Second Wave Of The 1918 Flu Pandemic Was So Deadly
The first strain of the 1918 flu wasnt particularly deadly. Then it came back in the fall with a vengeance.
The horrific scale of the 1918 influenza pandemicknown as the “Spanish flu”is hard to fathom. The virus infected and killed at least 50 million worldwide, according to the CDC. Thats more than all of the soldiers and civilians killed during World War I combined.
While the global pandemic lasted for two years, a significant number of deaths were packed into three especially cruel months in the fall of 1918. Historians now believe that the fatal severity of the Spanish flus second wave was caused by a mutated virus spread by wartime troop movements.
When the Spanish flu first appeared in early March 1918, it had all the hallmarks of a seasonal flu, albeit a highly contagious and virulent strain. One of the first registered cases was Albert Gitchell, a U.S. Army cook at Camp Funston in Kansas, who was hospitalized with a 104-degree fever. The virus spread quickly through the Army installation, home to 54,000 troops. By the end of the month, 1,100 troops had been hospitalized and 38 had died after developing pneumonia.
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What Is The Spanish Flu
The Spanish flu was the name given to a form of influenza caused by an H1N1 virus that started in some type of bird . The Spanish flu was a pandemic a new influenza A virus that spread easily and infected people throughout the world. Because the virus was new, very few people, if any, had some immunity to the disease.
From 1918 to 1919, the Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people globally. This amounted to about 33% of the worlds population at the time. In addition, the Spanish flu killed about 50 million people. About 675,000 of the deaths were in the U.S.
Just like the flu we get today, the Spanish flu was particularly harmful to infants under age 5 and people over the age of 65. One thing that was different about the Spanish flu was that it also killed a large number of healthy adults, aged 20 to 40 years.
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Their work estimated that the true Covid death toll in the United States is probably 10% higher than the declared number of lives lost to the disease in the country. That would place the Covid deaths in America in the ballpark of 741,000.
In rivaling the Spanish flu, the Covid-19 pandemic has given medical historians a new lesson to teach, said Markel, who wrote about that fact last month in The Atlantic.
The truth is we have no historical precedent for the moment were in now, he wrote. We need to stop thinking back to 1918 as a guide for how to act in the present and to start thinking forward from 2021 as a guide to how to act in the future.
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Not only was it shocking that healthy young men and women were dying by the millions worldwide, but it was also how they were dying. Struck with blistering fevers, nasal hemorrhaging and pneumonia, the patients would drown in their own fluid-filled lungs.
Only decades later were scientists able to explain the phenomenon now known as cytokine storm. When the human body is being attacked by a virus, the immune system sends messenger proteins called cytokines to promote helpful inflammation. But some strains of the flu, particularly the H1N1 strain responsible for the Spanish flu outbreak, can trigger a dangerous immune overreaction in healthy individuals. In those cases, the body is overloaded with cytokines leading to severe inflammation and the fatal buildup of fluid in the lungs.
British military doctors conducting autopsies on soldiers killed by this second wave of the Spanish flu described the heavy damage to the lungs as akin to the effects of chemical warfare.
What Is The Flu
Influenza, or flu, is a virus that attacks the respiratory system. The flu virus is highly contagious: When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, respiratory droplets are generated and transmitted into the air, and can then can be inhaled by anyone nearby.
Additionally, a person who touches something with the virus on it and then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose can become infected.
Did you know? During the flu pandemic of 1918, the New York City health commissioner tried to slow the transmission of the flu by ordering businesses to open and close on staggered shifts to avoid overcrowding on the subways.
Flu outbreaks happen every year and vary in severity, depending in part on what type of virus is spreading.
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Lessons For Health And Life Insurers
The recent scientific research findings are important for life and health insurers. Just from the date of birth of an insured, an insurer has knowledge of the influenza viruses against which immunity has progressively developed, most importantly possible childhood infections. For example, the cohort with childhood exposure to the H3N2 Hong Kong influenza pandemic of 1968, currently in their fifties, would be more vulnerable to H1N1 or H5N1 dominated epidemics, or others in the same phylogenetic Group 1. Geographical variations in exposure to the 1968 pandemic should impact on the immunity of current population, and should be explored.
No longer do health and life insurers have to worry over the accumulation risk of young adults falling seriously ill, or dying, in a future severe pandemic. Instead the worry shifts in age range according to the particular strain of pandemic influenza that strikes. Should the next pandemic influenza happen to be H1N1, as in 1918, or H5N1, then those insureds in their fifties who were exposed first to Hong Kong flu H3N2 would be especially vulnerable. Since this older cohort of insureds would tend to have larger valued insurance policies, the risk implications of an influenza pandemic are potentially significant.
Trying To Understand What Happened
* Please keep in mind that all text is machine-generated, we do not bear any responsibility, and you should always get advice from professionals before taking any actions.
* Please keep in mind that all text is machine-generated, we do not bear any responsibility, and you should always get advice from professionals before taking any actions
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Where Did The Spanish Flu Start
It might surprise you to learn that the Spanish flu didnt actually start in Spain. In reality, it could have started in any number of countries. Scientists have traced it back to France, China, Great Britain, and the United States, but its exact origin is still unknown.
So why was it called the Spanish flu? The answer goes back to politics. Many world powers at the time were involved in World War I, and leaders didnt want news of the flu to demoralize troops. Spain, on the other hand, managed to remain a neutral force and freely reported news of the influenza.
To the world, it looked like Spain was the epicenter of the pandemic. Spain instead believed that it originated in France and dubbed it the French flu.
The Claim: Experts Exaggerate The Gravity Of Covid
Many claims have attempted to compare the COVID-19 pandemic with prior pandemics, such as the Spanish flu in 1918 or the swine flu in 2009. Others have tried to brush off the novel coronavirus symptoms and rate of infection as akin to the seasonal flu.
USA TODAY debunked the claim that there were 56 million fewer cases of COVID-19 than of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, during the first year of that pandemic.
A widely shared meme features a slightly altered version of the claim. of the meme from late July has been shared more than 50,000 times. USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment, and he replied with more statistics that could not be independently verified.
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How Did The Pandemic End
Systems for alerting public health authorities of infectious spread did not include influenza, which led to a delayed response.
Social distancing measures were also introduced: schools, theatres, and places of worship were closed, public transport was limited and mass gatherings were banned.
Face masks also became common in places like Japan, though there was some resistance as exemplified by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.
Vaccines were also developed, were based on bacteria and not the actual virus, so could only help with secondary infections.
The pandemic ended by the summer of 1919, as those had been infected around the world had either died or developed immunity, reports History.com.
The flu “made all the world a killing zone,” wrote John M. Barry in The Great Influenza: The Story Of The Deadliest Pandemic In History.
Dr Jeffery Taubenberger, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calls the 1918 flu the “mother of all pandemics”.