The New Pandemic

2/13/14

The Great War had ended, and everyone was heading home to celebrate. While Americans were cheering for the returning troops, a pandemic marched alongside the soldiers. The 1918 Spanish Flu was a disease like no other, and probably would not have been so widespread if it were not for the war. Back home in the United States, families enjoyed unprecedented wealth that continued into the roaring 20′s. This significantly furthered the spread of the Spanish Flu. As people went to various forms of entertainment, they inadvertently shared more than just war stories. Sadly, once people became ill, they had few reliable options for medical treatment as doctor’s only had a rudimentary understanding of diseases. All over the world, millions of innocent people died from this deadly virus. Worst of all, however, is that this virus would reemerge nearly a century later. During the three waves of outbreaks, the government pleaded for citizens to stop making unnecessary calls so the lines were free for emergencies. Even then, there were not enough people to take calls. Doctors worked desperately to find a cure, but had no luck due to their misconception of the flu being a bacterial disease (when it is actually a virus). The government tried to force people to wear face masks in public, but they proved uncomfortable and many felt that such a demand violated people’s freedoms. The head of the U.S. Public Health Service, aware that a flu outbreak was possible, was not willing to authorize even $10,000 to be used for pneumonia research. By the time Congress authorized $1 million in emergency funding, the flu had already struck and people would have to simply let the flu take its course. A severe lack of preparation greatly amplified the effects of the deadly disease, which was seen by overfilled hospitals, a lack of healthy volunteers to help the ill, and makeshift hospitals made out of tents.

This is how people were treated if they became sick in 1918.

This is how people were treated if they became sick in 1918.

 

Everyone remembers the pandemic of 2009. As the Center for Disease Control (CDC) closely watched the H1N1 virus, the swine flu, in California after two children were infected who lived just 130 miles apart, vaccines were starting to be prepared in case of a pandemic. Luckily, numerous protocols were set in place after tragic pandemics in the past such as the Spanish Flu. What’s interesting though is that the 2009 pandemic was actually very similar to the Spanish Flu. Both of these tragic events involved the deadly H1N1 strand, which was seen in “the successful reconstruction of the influenza A (H1N1) virus responsible for the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic.” Unfortunately, the H1N1 virus is still rampant today. This year is the first year since 2009 that the H1N1 virus is the predominant flu strand. However, the pandemic five years ago is believed to have only killed 200,000 worldwide. Although this is a high number of deaths, it does not even begin to compare to the tens of millions of deaths caused by the 1918 pandemic. This significant improvement is likely due to the extensive preparation made by the CDC. Unlike the U.S. Public Health Service did in 1918, the CDC prepared before the outbreak started, so that a huge pandemic would not happen. The U.S. Public Health Service made the Spanish Flu worse by letting the outbreak happen without taking precautionary measures. Even though the H1N1 virus is still out there today, people can relax in the fact that so few of the overall population have died from the virus. It looks like for once, people have learned from the past, which truly helped as seen by the drastic decrease in the number of deaths just five years ago.

Click here for more information on the 1918 pandemic (if the video below does not work).

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