Treating Pandemic In 1919 vs. 2020

This an opportune moment to muse about what has taken place, and what has not, over the last few months relating to the Corona virus pandemic.

Needless to say, the entire world is experiencing a phenomenon that has morphed into an existential threat. Literally every person on earth is a target of the new virus.

Viruses and diseases have attacked mankind since the beginning of time (most likely). In most of these incidents, the medical bureaucracy of the time was caught off guard and surprised by the tenacity of certain influenza diseases. Medical experts pondered, and are still pondering today, about how these afflictions developed, where they came from, how to heal them and how to prevent them from recurring.

A good friend of mine sent me a paper that appeared in a magazine called Science (the article was published in May 1919). It’s a treatise on a virus pandemic, also known as the Spanish flu. The virus plagued mankind for about 12 months from the spring of 1918 to early summer of 1919. It infected 500 million people, about 1/3 of the world’s population. Fifty million people lost their lives, most deaths were caused by complications related to respiratory problems.

What’s interesting about the treatise is that it could well have been written about our coronavirus. Not much has changed relating to our knowledge of these rogue influenzas.

A section of the treatise deals with prevention and the factors that make it difficult to treat people with the disease.

It indicates that the public is indifferent. People do not appreciate the risks posed by influenza in spite of warnings by authorities. Sound familiar?

Secondly, the measures employed to fight the disease are sometimes not that effective or adopted by the general public. Unlike some diseases that stem from improper handling of waste and sewage, the flu spreads from excreta of the nose and throat that is projected into the air and pollutes hands, food, clothing and the entire environment of the infected person. It is not an easy task to control the respiration of an entire country or the world.  Sound familiar?

Thirdly, the highly infectious nature of the infection adds to the difficulty of its control. A fleeting moment of exposure can be disastrous and result in millions of deaths. Sound familiar?

The paper goes on to speak of the elusiveness and unpredictability of the 1919 pandemic influenza. Where it came from, when it started and how to stem the tide are discussed. There are no definitive answers just like today.

And then there are the 12 recommended actions by the Surgeon General of the Army. They include the following:

  1. Avoid crowding, flu is a crowd disease.
  2. Smother coughs and sneezes.
  3. Breathe through your nose.
  4. The Three C’s, clean mouth, clean skin and clean clothes.
  5. Keep cool when you walk, and warm when you ride and sleep.
  6. Open windows.
  7. Chew your food well.
  8. Wash your hands before eating.
  9. Don’t let waste products of digestion accumulate, drink a glass of water in the morning.
  10. 10.Don’t use a napkin, towel, spoon, fork, glass or cup used by another that was not washed.
  11. Avoid tight clothes, tight shoes and tight gloves.
  12. When the air is pure, breath all of it you can, breathe deeply.

The observation I have is that very little has been discovered about pandemic influenza over the past 101 years. The current cast of experts are just as befuddled about the details of the flu as experts were a century ago. Of course, we are capable, hopefully, of creating effective treatments and vaccines today.

God help us. And thank you Chris E for sending me this enlightening treatise. Be well everybody and remember to breathe through your nose.

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