A Tragic Memory: The 1918 Spanish Flu
By Francesca Yssabel A. Bocobo
INFLUENZA, commonly known as flu, is a viral infectious disease that assaults the respiratory system with a high infection rate. When a contaminated individual coughs, sneezes, or talks, the virus is transmitted into the air, which can be breathed in by anybody close by. The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 is the deadliest of its kind in history. It infected around 500 million individuals around the world—that time, around 33% of the planet’s population— and killed 20 million to 50 million people.
The outbreak of the 1918 Spanish Flu started in Europe before quickly spreading around the world. At that time, medications or immunizations to treat this deadly influenza strain were still under development. However, citizens were requested to wear masks and covers. Schools, theaters, and other non-essential facilities were closed.
The first wave of the 1918 pandemic occurred in the spring and was generally mild. Individuals who experienced typical flu symptoms like chills, fever, and fatigue usually recovered after several days. The number of reported deaths was low. However, a second, highly contagious wave of influenza came in the fall of that same year. Many victims died within several hours after developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling up with fluid that caused them to suffocate. In 1918, the average life expectancy in America plummeted by a dozen years. Improvised funeral homes were filled with corpses as the infection ravaged the whole world. As the Spanish Flu pandemic ended by the late spring of 1920, millions of infected individuals either passed away or became immune.
Eighty-eight years after the pandemic ended, scientists reported in 2008 that the 1918 influenza
became fatal because it debilitated the bronchial cylinders and the lungs, making room for bacterial pneumonia. From 2009 to 2010, more than 200,000 people worldwide died during the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic continuous to spread, nations work to discover a cure. People follow safety regulations to control the number of infections, especially because some of the cases are asymptomatic.
These modern-day pandemics brought renewed popularity to the Spanish Flu, the “forgotten pandemic” named as such because it was overshadowed by the events of World War I. No matter what pandemics or outbreaks come, always remember that public health is crucial, and we need to cooperate with the government.
We may never know the exact statistics on the Spanish Flu because of incomplete and inaccurate record-keeping throughout the world at that time. But we can learn from the events and consequences of the Spanish Flu—that a pandemic increases poverty, inequalities, and long-term destabilization. During the Spanish Flu, the world did not have the technology and the expertise to create an effective vaccine. However, a century later, the world has changed so much; we now have scientific knowledge about virology and medicine that can help us in the current pandemic.
COVID-19 is ravaging our country and the world, so we must understand that our government wants to keep us safe. We should follow the rules and regulations to decrease the risk of this
deadly virus. These include social distancing, stay-at-home orders, encouraging remote work, and wearing face masks in public. Also, we need to increase our knowledge and awareness about the pandemic. This way, we can be responsible and united for the common good.
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