Do we learn from the past or do we find ourselves repeating history?
, 4 min reading time
, 4 min reading time
From Feb 1918 to April 1920 the world endured what was named “the Spanish flu”, the deadliest pandemic in human history with acceptable estimates of 25-50 million deaths over four consecutive waves. While it was named the Spanish flu it is correctly named Influenza A H1N1.
While the 1918 Influenza A H1N1 viral infection was no more aggressive than previous strains, malnourishment, overcrowding of medical camps and hospitals and poor hygiene increased its severity, killing most of the victims after a prolonged death bed. Some strains of H1N1 are endemic in humans are cause seasonal influenza while others are endemic in animals such as pig (swine) and birds (avian). Influenza is typically more deadly to individuals who are immunocompromised or weaker such as infants and the elderly however studies showed that pregnant women and soldiers or other men who were nutritionally affected became statics.
The deadly second wave of the 1918 influenza was more deadly than the first as the first was similar to a seasonal flu affecting sick, the elderly and the young. The second wave was more deadly in many countries as they lifted quarantine measures however, some locations such as China and Copenhagen experienced a lower rate due to higher exposure rates of the first wave or the milder influenza virus. Due to the exposure, immunity had been generated decreasing the mortality rates significantly.
Mortality rate was higher in males rather than females due to the many men also contracting tuberculosis however, other factors such as military service (front line troops) and working men impacted the spread through male population rather than the female. Newfoundland experienced a deadly wave in June/July of 1918 aligning with the high demand for employment in the fisheries however as the waves progressed, the higher mortality rate shifted from males to females. During the war, transportation of sick, wounded, and soldiers, increased the risk of infection and spread not only among military personnel but also across countries. According to a study in 2013, three factors were listed as the cause of the three waves, school opening and closing, temperature changes throughout the outbreak and human behavioural changes as a response to the outbreak. While they were all important factors, the behavioural responses were demonstrated the most significant effects.
Information regarding the virus was spread with varying results. Some outlets were concerned for the mass panic and applied censorship while others reported incorrect information such as the disease being carried by the wind from the battlefront.
While Covid is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, we can see historical events being recreated 100 years later. Covid is a positive sense single strand genome made of ribonucleic acid that can directly translate into viral proteins by the host cell’s ribosomes. Examples of these include: Hepatitis C, Dengue, MERS and rhinoviruses that can cause the common cold.
At the onset of Covid we experienced a variety of information being spread around the world. Some were deemed as accurate and others as inaccurate. With governments around the world required to act, knee jerk reactions were the most commonly employed actions fueled by fear and panic. Originally we were told that the virus did not mutate and while this was corrected, the concept is still employed in many discussions. Quarantine efforts 100 years ago have largely been duplicated with varying results similar to the influenza pandemic. A review of several countries around the world who participated in lockdowns have highlighted the fact that no common positive or negative factor could be found. Each experienced different results due to factors such as speed of lockdown, cultural and behavioural activities, access to food and medical support etc. The media, like with the influenza pandemic, have played a large role in generating misinformation relating to Covid. We have seen incorrect information with racial profiling and profiteering as the cause of Australia running out of vital medical supplies when instead it was created largely by the “just-in-time” warehouse and delivery setup that was employed by most hospitals as well as the complete shutdown of our biggest manufacturer, China. While majority of our supplies come from China, this biggest issue was that most brands in market share common manufacturers. This meant that when China reopened, brands rushed to the same manufacturers in an attempt to urgently increase production however, limited increase in production meant that most brands were unable to increase supply leaving them to rely on forecasted purchase orders. Some companies had chosen to not increase or act prior to the shut down as it was forecasted that Covid would be over in a couple of months just like Swine flu etc.
Other similarities between the past and present include exiting quarantine measures, travel and spread relationships, poor nutrition and medical access complications, immunocompromised and weak person being targeted followed by an increase in younger more healthier persons being affected in the second wave, a role of natural immunity and a struggle with treatment and preventative measures being effective and acceptable while all being debated and challenged. Ultimately, it seems that as much as we have evolved in most areas such as technology, medicine, education etc, we as humans, still largely repeat history largely due to behavioural tendencies. No matter how the political scene changes or how advanced we become, we still seem to default to the same reactions triggered by fear and panic.