Hope springs in the fight to beat flu. An injection to fight COVID-19 is on its way. US President Joe Biden advocates the wearing of face masks, even if not compulsory for those not medical exempt.
And we’ve been her before. In 1918, influenza, the so-called Spanish Flu, or 91918H1N1, to give its proper name, claimed the lives of more than 50 million people in just 15 months. Some estimates out the toll at 100 million. It was the worst pandemic of them all. Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper reported that 65 soldiers had to be buried at sea from just one troopship before it arrived at Southampton. The global economy decreased by about 5 per cent.
Sometimes death came terrifyingly quickly with victims turning blue-black and drowning in their own body fluids. There were no influenza vaccines or antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. It wasn’t proved that Influenza was caused by a virus until 1933.
As Rob Baker writes:
Historian John Barry, author of “The Great Influenza,” wrote that the US Congress passed a Sedition Act in May 1918, which made it a crime to “wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States.” That meant, whether they wanted to or not, the newspapers had to suppress any reports of the flu epidemic. It also meant, according to Barry, that “against this background, while influenza bled into American life, public health officials, determined to keep morale up, began to lie.” The huge movement of soldiers around the world contributed to the transmission of the H1N1 virus with a speed never before seen.
The British advised “Give up shaking hands for the present and give up kissing for all time”. Posters encouraged Japan’s population to “wear masks, “stay away”; “cover your mouth and nose”; “get vaccinated”; and “gargle”.
“The 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man’s destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all–infectious disease”
– The Journal of the American Medical Association, December 1918
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