The Spanish Flu vs. Coronavirus

By The Right-Wing Teen

As the number of Coronavirus cases grows worldwide, it can be compared to the Spanish Flu, a global pandemic dating back to the early 20th century. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, that disease infected at least 500 million people – more than a quarter of the world’s population in 1918.

Today’s Coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. By mid-March of 2020, the virus had spread to over 100 countries and the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. (An epidemic is a regional outbreak of disease. If the disease spreads far and wide enough, it becomes a pandemic that can go around the entire world.)

The current crisis is actually the first pandemic caused by a Coronavirus. Prior pandemics were caused by the Influenza A virus. At one time, Influenza outbreaks were typically named after their point of origin (just like wildfires), but nowadays we’re too politically correct for that. Past Influenza pandemics include:

  • Russian Flu Pandemic (1889-1890) 1 million deaths
  • Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918) 50-100 million deaths
  • Asian Flu Pandemic (1956-1958) 2 million deaths
  • Hong Kong Flu Pandemic (1968) 1 million deaths

SARS (2002), Ebola (2014), and MERS (2015) were epidemics in certain parts of the world, but they did not become pandemic on a global scale.

The Coronavirus

Experts refer to this Coronavirus as the “novel” Coronavirus, meaning it’s a new type of Coronavirus that was not previously known by health experts. But they say it’s very similar to the original SARS virus, which was of zoonotic origin (it came from bats).

Viruses are constantly mutating, making it possible on rare occasions for non-human viruses (i.e. swine flu, bird flu, mad cow disease) to change in such a way that they can infect people easily and then spread directly from person to person.

COVID-19 is the respiratory illness caused by the Coronavirus. CO stands for Corona (this type of virus has crown-like structures on its surface); VI denotes a virus; D represents Disease; and 19 is the year (2019) in which this specific viral outbreak got its start. So, for example, if there is a new coronavirus outbreak in 2023, the name of the disease will be COVID-23.

COVID-19’s origins are still unconfirmed, though it likely originated in bats. It’s also known that the epicenter of the epidemic is the Chinese Hubei Province. Nevertheless, WHO authorities are taking great pains to ensure the name of the virus doesn’t denote geographic or possible animal origins.

As of April 4, 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic has so far reached a death toll of 55,107. Click here for an up-to-date number:

The Spanish Flu

The 1918 Spanish Flu was aggressive, fast-spreading and deadly. Did you know, more people died from that flu than in World War I? Starting its rounds near the end of the war, the Spanish Flu killed more people in a year than the infamous Bubonic Plague. We don’t have an exact count, but at least 50 million to as many as 100 million people died from the Spanish Flu, which was three to five percent of the global population.

The war did not help at all – the movement of supplies and troops aided the spread of the Spanish Flu, as well as the trench warfare. Imagine the speed at which a virus can spread in a crowded ditch. The fast emergence of the virus in the trenches caused some soldiers to believe that the Spanish Flu was a new form of biological warfare.

Normally, influenza only kills those who are more vulnerable, such as the old and infirm. However, the Spanish Flu was prone to killing the young and healthy. Nearly 50% of deaths occurred in people ages 20 to 40. This was likely because the disease prompted the immune system to go into overdrive, and since the immune systems of young adults were the strongest, their systems were most stressed by the illness.

The Spanish Flu struck suddenly and severely, often disabling its victims in hours; and within a day they would be dead, typically from extreme cases of pneumonia. Unfortunately, this quick death was not enough to keep the disease from spreading. The Spanish Flu managed to sweep across the globe via trade routes and shipping lines. It hit North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific.

How Coronavirus Compares to the Spanish Flu

There are several parallels between the response to the Spanish Flu and Coronavirus in the U.S. In both cases, states of emergency were declared. Movie theaters and schools were closed for months. Many stores closed or would only fill orders outside their doors. Cities across America banned pubic gatherings, including church services; and funerals were limited to 15 minutes in length.

Flu ordinances were passed to help quarantine the disease. Spitting and coughing in public was prohibited. Some towns required special paperwork to pass through them. Wearing cotton gauze face masks was recommended to avoid catching the flu. But there was a shortage of masks, and some people (especially men) didn’t like to wear them, because they didn’t want to be seen as weak or cowardly. Hospitals became filled so quickly that there were not enough doctors, so medical students were forced out of school and into field hospitals as nurses or interns.

In an interview with Deadline, Hollywood historian William Mann, author of Tinseltown, said that during the Spanish Flu outbreak, between 80% and 90% of American movie theaters were closed for anywhere between two to six months. This was a huge disruption in not only moviegoing but also moviemaking. At first, the studios put a ban on filming crowd scenes, and then they shut down all production for over a month – from the middle of October to the end of November of 1918. The greatest economic impact was felt by mom-and-pop movie theaters across the country, which were ruined by this.

The Spanish Flu changed people’s ways of life. But President Woodrow Wilson never shut down the government, and in fact he didn’t address the disease at all. He never made one public statement about the Spanish Flu in 1918. Instead, he focused all his efforts on defeating Germany in World War I.

The Spanish Flu lasted until the end of 1920. It is believed the flu simply ran out of fuel to spread. After two years of ravaging the Earth, it disappeared as quickly as it had arisen. Now here we are 100 years later, experiencing a similar pandemic. Hopefully the Coronavirus will conk off soon and not come back!


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