Did You Know This Isn’t the First Global Pandemic?

We may think we’re the first to muddle through the complexities of a global pandemic, but we’re not. The first was the Spanish flu in 1918. Due to troops returning home after the end of WWI and increasingly developing means of travel, the world was hit with the first global pandemic. Patrick Bailey, guest blogger for today, shares the similarities and differences between the deadly viruses that are almost a century apart.

How COVID-19 Differs and Varies from the 1918 Flu Pandemic  

As COVID-19 continues its spread, many people are comparing this pandemic to the 1918 Spanish influenza. This frightening pandemic infected 500 million people – a third of the population at the time – and killed anywhere from 17-50 million individuals, a rate that is scary when considering the current widespread nature of COVID-19.

Many questions remain: Will the COVID-19 pandemic be as destructive as the 1918 one was? Also, how are these diseases similar to one another? How are they different? Let’s take a look at how this current problem is affecting many elements of the world, including treatment in medical care centers like alcohol rehab facilities, hospitals, and other treatment areas.

How COVID-19 and the 1918 Flu Pandemic are Similar

First of all, COVID-19 and the 1918 Spanish Flu are similar in how they are spread. Both are transmitted through the air and by contact on surfaces on which the virus lands. Unfortunately, the world did not have hand sanitizer and other types of tools to minimize this spread in 1918. As a result, the virus spread quickly, even though it was no more infectious than the average flu.

And like COVID-19, Spanish Flu was a novel virus—this means that the body didn’t have antibodies to protect against infection. Therefore, these viruses both spread very quickly and in unpredictable ways. During the Spanish Flu pandemic, there were four different waves of this disease over a two-year period before the virus had finally run its deadly course through the population.

Unfortunately, these viruses also share another similarity – the ways that they affect the body. Reports of people with H1N1 in 1918-1919 are eerily similar to those of the modern COVID-19 pandemic. Respiratory failure was common, and the disease was more deadly in those with mitigating conditions. However, these pandemics are also different in many ways that must be addressed properly.

Ways That They Are Different

Let’s state the most apparent fact right away – medical science has expanded exponentially since the Spanish Flu pandemic. As a result, the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 have become more efficient more quickly than during the Spanish Flu pandemic. And the lessons learned when managing the Spanish Flu—such as social distancing and wearing masks, which were practiced in 1918-1920 – are better understood for this pandemic.

As a result, it is likely the death rate from COVID-19 will come nowhere near that of the Spanish Flu. As of this blog’s writing, just under 690,000 people have died from the coronavirus out of around 17,760,000 cases. That’s a death rate of just over 3.8 percent – a fraction of the 10 percent estimated death rate for Spanish Flu. (Rates vary for both pandemics, however. The true death toll for the Spanish influenza of 1918 remains unknown, and COVID’s course is still progressing.) This lower death rate has to do with improved treatment methods, a better understanding of virus care, and differences between the viruses.

COVID-19 and Spanish Flu are very different genetically. First of all, flu viruses have a unique structure that allows them to evolve more quickly. By contrast, COVID-19 seems a much more stable virus, though mutations have been found. This difference is both good and bad – rapid variations may have made the Spanish Flu less deadly but could also have made it worse. And if COVID is more stable, transformations into less deadly strains are not as likely.

How These Pandemics Affect Medical Facilities

COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu alike are hitting (and have hit) medical facilities the hardest. This fact is understandable – hospitals and doctors offices are where people go to get medical care. As a result, these centres would suffer the most. The individuals here often have other conditions that can make the infection worse, such as heart problems or weakened immune systems.

As a result, some experts are saying that COVID-19 could be worse than the Spanish Flu pandemic in many ways. The U.S. death rate of over 157,000 people is already approaching one-fourth of what was experienced during the 1918 epidemic. And while vaccines are being developed at an accelerated rate, they may still not be available for some time, leaving the population vulnerable to this disease.

Those in treatment centers for addiction may experience many health issues as well. For example, many in these facilities may suffer from malnourishment that worsens COVID-19’s impact. The close-knit nature of such communities may also cause this virus to spread more rapidly. Some may even check out of these facilities and end up falling back into drug abuse.

It’s Too Early to Tell

As the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging and the Spanish Flu is long under control, it is hard to compare the two. It is clear, though, that there are some similarities between the two. One disheartening comparison is the fact that many people in both pandemics refused to wear masks or social distance. These actions only worsen the spread of the pandemic and could make it last much longer. However, the fact that the Spanish Flu eventually ended is a reason to see some hope in this situation.

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 

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