According to epidemiologists, pandemics occur every 25 years. At the end of the First World War, one of the most important pandemics in history caused the death of 3.6% of the world population, or 50 to 100 million people, known as "The Spanish Flu". The name suggests origin, but as explained by Jean-Claude Manuguerra, head of the Environment and Infectious Risks unit at the Institut Pasteur, this name was entirely misleading. He states "During the First World War, Spain was not at war, making it the only nation where the press was not censored and where information was given about the flu epidemic, and members of the royal family had beeninfected with the virus, hence this error. "
Today we’re going to take a look at the history of the last great deadly global pandemic that took place in such a short time.
Scientists have had difficulty determining the origins of the Spanish Flu. Some hypotheses
have been put forward on the origin of the most impactful pandemic in history, notably those from the professor of biology at the University of Arizona Michael Worobey which to this day still seems the most probable theory. He believed the Spanish flu was a combination of the H1N8 flu (years of activity: 1900-1917) and avian genes of the N1 type. From this combination, according to Worobey, is how the Spanish Flu came to be. It is believed to have appeared and originated among a population of wild ducks from the Canton region of China. The virus took very little time to conquer the planet. Due to untimely exchanges of military troops or goods between the countries of the world, the port areas and military bases were found to be the first affected by the epidemic.
Indeed, the first appearances of syndromes occurred in France in February 1916 in Marseille, being a port area, by an epidemic of pneumonia among Indochinese workers. Later in February 1917 this community as well as the Algerians and Martiniquais, were victims of increasingly recurrent pneumonia. But, these syndromes were of little concern to doctors at the time, simply thinking that Indochinese people would be more likely to have this condition due to their skin color. Dr Labbé concludes in February 1917 in his report:
“There is a pathology very different from ours. Besides, when we visit the hospitals for patients of color, we sometimes have the impression of being in the presence of new infections unknown to men in our climates and that the educated doctors of tropical diseases do not even know. "
We then perceive the ignorance of these warning signs in the face of such reports.
As of February 1918, cases were detected in China, in the region of Canton and in the United
States, in South Carolina in military camps. 25% of the American military are affected by what is still a simple virus. It took on a disproportionate scale from April 1918 when cases of influenza were spotted all around the globe and not only at military bases.
In May 1918, only 30% of the victims were European, the rest being mainly Indochinese
victims. At the end of May, the newspaper Le Journal said that 30% of the metropolis of the
Spanish capital would be affected by the epidemic. On June 1, 120,000 victims were announced in Madrid. In France, until August 1918 the people cared little about the virus and even rejoiced that the virus affected the German armies, the newspaper Le Matin of July 6, 1918 sold the French troops as resistant to the virus:
“Our troops, in particular, resist it wonderfully. But on the other side of the front, the Boches
seem very touched. Is it a symptom of weariness, of failure of organisms whose resistance is
running out? In any case, the flu is raging in Germany with intensity. "
The same month in France, 65 people from Montpellier died from the virus. That’s when
medical journals finally decided to seriously discuss this flu. Aside from the medical journals,
the media reached out to the French public.
We note here that the flu is only mentioned in the "Little Facts" section, demonstrating the
media's ignorance of the flu even in mid-October 1918.
In late September there were 285 deaths, and in December, France had more than 128,000 civilians dead. This was a very significant number in France, but just as exponential in other regions of the globe. The mortuaries as well as the cemeteries were overcrowded and sadly some took advantage of it to raise prices. As a result, some town halls such as those from Philadelphia launched calls for volunteers to help...particularly dig graves. As of December, a drop in mortality was recorded in order to see a rise from February to March 1919 which was marked as the second and last peak of mortality due to the Spanish flu. This pandemic disappeared in France in May 1919 when the number of deaths became negligible. At that point more than 36,000 French civilians were pronounced dead due to this epidemic.
The Spanish flu mainly affected populations from 20 to 40 years old, Professor Michael
Worobey explains that this age group was immunized against the H3N8 virus which raged
between 1889 and 1890 and not against the H1 virus which is, let us remember , the source of the Spanish flu virus. "the unusual vulnerability of young adults to this virus is explained by the fact that these individuals, born between 1880 and 1890, would have known the H3N8 flu when they were children"
Faced with this epidemic, health advice was most banal, wearing a mask, washing your hands and avoiding human gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This type of prevention is still found today, notably with the coronavirus which is rife in the world where the origin of the virus is, also in this case, China.
With overcrowded hospitals, large rooms were essential to try, in vain, to treat a maximum
number of people. Today, hospitals are being built in record times. In fact, 2 hospitals were built in this month of February 2020 in less than 10 days to allow a capacity of 1000 patients. It is easy to see that technological advances allow infrastructure to be built more quickly.
Infrastructure was and still is necessary to save the population from an epidemic, which would ultimately reduce the damage incurred by such an epidemic. We should be able to see the real effectiveness of such an implementation in days and weeks to come.
In addition, the doctors concerned about the victims, in contact with their patients, were more exposed to the risk of contamination. We have the case here of the nurse card of Theresa Burmeister, who was a "Red Cross Nurse", a nurse from the American Red Cross and died because of the Spanish flu on January 29, 1919.
Even today, doctors taking care of patients with coronavirus are more exposed to the risks, we can confirm this with the death on February 6 of Doctor Li Wenliang who had given the alert of the appearance of the virus.
Today’s technological means and advances in medicine allow more or less reliable security such as the installation of thermal cameras in airports to control passenger flows.
Confinement for an entire city was also an exceptional measure which the city of Wuhan had to face during the month of January 2020 because the epidemic of coronavirus fever originated in the capital of the Hubei province.
The Spanish flu was considered to be one of the largest epidemics of all time and, even if the numbers are still uncertain as of this date, it would have killed up to 100 million people.
Today we are going over the coronavirus and putting in place, with information of the past,
extraordinary means to reduce the spread of the virus and cure the victims. We still haven't
figured out what could be the perfect way to prevent a pandemic...maybe one day we will know.
What do you think would be the best way to prevent any pandemic?