Influenza: A Deadly Threat, The U.S. Has Suffered from Ignorance & Paranoia

March 31, 2020

Stay safe and don’t panic, but realize the flu is a killer. With the COVID-19 strain of virus now affecting many parts of the world one should look at the history of influenza (commonly called flu). 


In 1918, a strain of influenza, mislabeled as “Spanish flu,” caused a global pandemic which killed millions. The term Spanish flu was probably associated with bigoted historians and medical personal that sought to isolate it to a specific country to generate forms of hatred. According to WHO (World Health Organization) research, the name COVID-19 was derived because, “a standard format to use for any future virus outbreaks” was important because of political and geo-political hatreds. This is a good idea with the bigoted leadership of Trump.


 Photo: The History Press


The 1918 virus spread rapidly killing approximately 50 million people worldwide according to most reports, but one must remember that record keeping during those days was poorly done. Health care issues of the poor and people of color were purposefully ignored during that time. Health care was ‘racially” segregated and the poor had the worst access to medical attention. Hence, the number 50 million was probably much higher. We know that viruses are spread from animals to humans. According to WebMD, “Most influenza viruses that infect humans seem to originate . . . where close contact between livestock and people creates a hospitable environment for mutation and transmission of viruses. “


Today, with COVID-19 on the rise, we are told to stay away from large gatherings (social distancing), people coughing, wash your hands frequently, and wear masks. This was also the good advice in 1918. Interestingly, in 2020, we have been scammed by various religious fanatics and fake cures spread on bogus internet sites, and Donald Trump’s fake messages have led to a death. INFOWARS, an extremist conservative web site, has attempted to sell fake bottled cures as has Jim Baker, the discredited money mad televangelist. One legitimate response, but one that will not apply in this time frame, was the 1918 flu “fresh air” concept. Research at that time suggested that fresh air helped those that were sick. It might have been helpful in the atmosphere of that day and may have been a form of social distancing, however, this was before the days of ozone pollution. We are now aware that “fresh air” is hard to find.


Your home, if you have central air, and a good filter (rated at 2200 is best) might be better than outside, as allergies may weaken your immune system and cause more problems. Going outside during allergy season with asthma or any other high risk disease or affliction is simply a bad idea.  The United States has suffered from ignorance and paranoia in understanding diseases in the past. According to Laurie Garrett, an award winning investigator of diseases, in her book The Coming Plague, “Influenza proved to have a complex genetic organization . . . .that has thrived over the millennia by rigorously adhering to a single maxim: Adapt or die,” What this means is those viruses adapt and change to fight any attempt to control them—this is the reality and not paranoia.


According to the WHO, “The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette....Influenza pandemics and epidemics are not new. . . .” 


However, one lesson that can be learned from 1918 is that the flu is deadly and can still kill despite our best efforts in this century. 



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