A comparison of the Spanish flu, a pandemic which struck the world a century ago, with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak is a grim reminder of how humanity remains fragile in the face of a lethal pathogen, but a parallelism from the past offers great hope.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that COVID-19 is the first pandemic known to be caused by the emergence of a new coronavirus.
CDC data showed in the past century, four pandemics were caused by the emergence of novel influenza viruses, which prompted most research on global health threats to revolve around influenza, specifically including COVID-19.
Based on the findings, the global blight might be approaching its peak, which happens at the end of the acceleration phase, which is followed by a deceleration phase, during which there is a decrease in illnesses.
CDC, however, said different countries can be in different phases of the pandemic at any point in time and different parts of the same country can also be in different phases of a pandemic.
Thus, the resurgent problem of China where local transmissions have abated but a resurgence of infection could be possible this time from foreign transmissions.
The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 or what is more commonly known as the Spanish flu, which lasted only a few months, claimed 50 million to 100 million lives worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States.
While the pandemic is used as a benchmark for the current outbreak, health experts believe that the outcome from COVID-19 will not be in the magnitude of the 1918 disease mainly due to the advancement of medicine since then.
As the global menace appeared at the turn of the 19th century, even medical practitioners did not know then what was killing people en masse.
Theories abounded. Some suggested it was a misalignment of the planets, while others believed the cause was microbes from volcanic eruptions.
In the case of COVID-19, at the outset, scientists suspected a virus. Within two weeks, experts identified it as a coronavirus, sequenced its genome, and discovered that the most likely animal hosts were bats.
The information, which was published by a Chinese team, was instantly shared across the scientific community, allowing research laboratories around the world to study the virus and start the research for a vaccine.
The revered Atlantic Monthly said the world, compared to the Spanish flu era, now have physicians and nurses with expertise in emergency care, intensive care and infectious diseases.
“A century ago, there was no such training. The doctor who looked after your influenza might also set your broken bones, deliver your baby, or remove your appendix. We take medical specialization for granted these days, and sometimes complain about the inability of specialists to treat anything outside their own narrow area of focus. But this specialization is precisely what gives the sickest patients the best chance at recovery,” it noted.
“From the emergency physician who first diagnoses and treats you, to the nurse who cares for you at your bedside, from the infectious-disease specialist who helps fine-tune your medications, to the respiratory therapist who helps rehabilitate your damaged lungs, specialists working as a team can save the same patient who a century ago would have died, unnoticed, in the corner of a busy and overcrowded ward,” it noted.
Which brings the point on the need for government intervention to give priority to health workers who are much needed to do the hazardous job of caring for the infected and applying a century of experience against the disease.
Equipment is running short in many hospitals and the role of government is crucial in ensuring that those in the frontline are supplied with protection from the disease that they are tasked to eradicate.
Some in government came up with the suggestion to send even the unexperienced fresh graduates to augment the depleted line of health workers amid the growing number of those afflicted with the virus.
Denied of the necessary equipment, the proposal is similar to throwing lambs into the lion’s den.