One century ago, the scientific community was not as advanced as it is today. Thus, for the Spanish flu, there were no effective vaccines to protect people, nor antibiotics to cure incidental infections (via bacteria) that have associations with influenza. Other measures were taken to prevent the spread of the virus, such as limiting large gatherings, quarantine/isolation, maintaining personal hygiene, and using disinfectants. Sound familiar? It should, as we use similar means to slow the spread of COVID-19 today! We’ve developed new methods to prevent the escalation of COVID-19 cases, some of which include contact tracing, wearing masks, and establishing multiple testing centers.
Another interesting factor to think about is the spread of information. In 1918, there was no texting, no social media, and overall, very few ways of spreading information. This made it hard for the preventative measures previously discussed to be implemented in society. Furthermore, it made educating people on the Spanish flu very difficult; without knowing what the virus was, it made it hard for people to obey the precautionary measures. In 2020, it is the total opposite; an individual might even say we have too much information! With easy access to facts and news, most people will comply with the guidelines set out, as well as be educated about the virus itself.
“Three of the leading threats to global public health are attitudinal: hubris, isolationism, and distrust.” (Parmet and Rothstein) I believe this best summarizes the attitudes toward public health from 1918 to 2020. I remember when the news of COVID-19 initially began to spread, I had mixed thoughts about what to expect. Shedding light on hubris, I knew that we are living in a time where medical technology is superior compared to that present in 1918. However, I wasn’t sure that necessarily meant that the world is better at handling/preventing a pandemic. Living in a fairly affluent part of the world, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has access to healthcare or proper sanitation. Millions of people suffer a lack of healthcare infrastructure; furthermore, they may face cultural/religious barriers to public health involvement. Next, for isolationism, I recall a time a few months ago, where many other countries in Europe and Asia were doing better in terms of COVID-19 compared to the USA. I remember talk of some countries “closing their borders” to save themselves from the virus. However, “a public health event in any part of the world can create a public health threat everywhere” (Parmet and Rothstein). Considering the aftermath of the Spanish flu, I believe simply trying to just save oneself from a pandemic is a futile effort, while establishing a more global public health policy would be more helpful. Lastly, looking distrust, I always find myself doubting information I see on social media or the internet because the concept of “fake news” is so prevalent in media and politics. However, we must be careful not to doubt the wrong source(s); not trusting the public health system in their guidelines will do more damage than good.
A quote I find relevant to all this is “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it - George Santayana ”. I believe that if we can learn from the mistakes, we made in 1918 during the Spanish flu, we can better handle the current situation we are in.
About Nadia Shah:
Nadia Shah is a rising junior at Andover High School. She is passionate about STEM and hopes to pursue a career in medicine and neuroimmunology.
“1918 Pandemic (H1N1 Virus).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Mar. 2019, www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html.
“About COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cdcresponse/about-COVID-19.html.
“Coronavirus (COVID-19).” Google News, Google, news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US.
“History of 1918 Flu Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2018, www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm.
Parmet, Wendy E, and Mark A Rothstein. “The 1918 Influenza Pandemic: Lessons Learned and Not-Introduction to the Special Section.” American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, Nov. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6187781/.