As deadly pandemics go, our planet has seen quite a few of them. And the COVID-19 outbreak caused by the SARS-CoV-2 or the novel Coronavirus is one of the worst ones.
Till Monday, worldwide with over 12 lakh confirmed cases and 69,000 deaths, the infection rate in many countries including US, Spain, and other nations is still climbing.
Human history has seen some brutal killers in the form of cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, and influenza.
Smallpox has had a long existence. Over 12,000 years, it killed between 300-500 million people.
In recent years, the world has seen the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2009 and the Ebola in 2014–2016 in West Africa.
But outstripping them all has been the Spanish Flu. In terms of its speed, range and the people it killed, the Spanish Flu dwarfed even the number of deaths on the battlefield s of World War I.
By the time it fizzled out, it had infected nearly a third of the world’s population of 1.8 billion.
Between 1918 and 1920, the Spanish Flu influenza killed an estimated 50 million worldwide.
Spanish Flu & COVID-19: Similarities
- Both diseases come from an animal source. The Spanish flu virus is believed to have come from a bird, though no one knows for certain what type or from where. Likewise, health experts suspect an animal originally hosted the COVID-19 virus strain before it infected human beings, though the animal has not been identified.
- Another similarity is how quickly both viruses seem to spread. Spanish Flu infected one-third of the global population. COVID-19 has so far affected 208 countries and territories around the world.
- Both produced symptoms like difficulty in breathing, fever, coughing and sneezing. Both could open a pathway to pneumonia and death.
- The Spanish flu became much more dangerous after an apparent mutation. Strains of Coronavirus are known to mutate relatively easily. However, there are no multiple strains of COVID-19.
Spanish Flu & COVID-19: Differences
- Different types of viruses with different methods of action and infectiousness caused both COVID-19 and Spanish Flu.
- The Spanish Flu struck down many previously healthy, young people including a number of World War soldiers. The most affected COVID-19 groups are adults over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions. Children and adults seem to have much milder symptoms.
- While the ability of human beings in combating Spanish Flu was severely restricted, the modern age is better equipped to use technology and science to quickly develop test drugs. There are over 100 ongoing clinical trials worldwide of experimental and already approved drugs that might be repurposed to fight COVID-19
- As of now, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 as of now and the disease has spread rapidly from its origin in China in late December 2019. Although healthcare facilities are being stretched thin by COVID-19 in many countries at present, it was far worse in 1918, when hospitals were dealing with mass casualties and injuries from the war. Many physicians were with the troops, leaving medical students to take care of the influenza patients.
- COVID-19 currently has almost double the number of cases worldwide now than the entire 1918 Spanish flu pandemic did but the current World’s population of 8 billion people has lower death rates from COVID-19.
How Did Spanish Flu End
In 1918, countries imposed quarantines, ordered citizens to wear masks and shut down public places, including schools, churches and theatres. People were advised to avoid shaking hands and to stay indoors. By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed an immunity.
When Will COVID-19 End
Right now, no one has an answer. Limiting physical contact among people with social distancing, including school and business closures and a ban on nonessential travel, has been the most powerful weapon we now have to slow the pandemic.