1918 Flu and Coronavirus Pandemic

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Day 185: Stay Safe Minnesota

A CNN conversation with three 1918 flu experts offers some lessons learned, missed opportunities in the current pandemic and future hopes.

At the time of writing this post, confirmed coronavirus infected cases have reached almost 33 million with nearly one million deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University. In the US confirmed COVID-19 cases have exceeded 7 million with over 200,000 deaths. There are many reports, news articles, and journal articles written to understand the virus and slowdown down its spread.

Historians and scholars who have written volumes of books, journal articles and other reports compare this coronavirus pandemic with the 1918 flu pandemic.

Coronavirus and 1918 Flu Pandemics

During the 1918 flu pandemic 50 million to 100 million people were dead. Some reported parallels between the 1918 flu and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic include: varied symptoms with few treatment options and ‘human behavior as a hindrance to public health and cluster outbreaks that have become widespread’.

To better understand the similarities between the current COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 flu, CNN reached out to the following three experts on the subject:

The CNN conversation with the above three scholars is summarized below:

  • On the 1918 flu lessons: Despite our understanding of the molecular biology of the virus and other similar viruses, we still don’t fully understand how to manage it. By telling truth and with nonpharmaceutical interventions (social distancing and masks) can help slow the spread.
  • On what went wrong since the 1918 pandemic: Put enough pre-planning into how we would handle an influenza pandemic and have in place a game plan for handling a pandemic from another virus. There’s very little attention paid to what may happen down the road, and we’ve become complacent with our belief that we have the ability to control everything.
  • How the pandemic may end: All infectious disease ends when people run away from it until it goes away and when all those people who are exposed to it have died from it, so there is nobody else. And when other people who are exposed survive and achieve immunity, which gives you some protection. We’ve seen those three effects through history in 1918, and we will see some variant of that today. There’s no doubt that we will see an end to Covid-19. The big question is, what will be the cost and when will that be?
  • On the main worries: (i) Long term effect from the virus. (ii) Selfishness, a deeply rooted believe in the American society and their inability to have empathy for others who aren’t like themselves is one of the very, very worrying aspects that the disease has highlighted, (iii) Society, employment, people who’ve lost everything, and they may just never recover.
  • On hope: People’s immune systems will adjust to it with or without a vaccine. It remains an open question whether there will be an economic bounce back and, more importantly, an emotional bounce back from it. There is a chance of getting a vaccine that might actually stop this virus before it runs through the entire population and affects everybody that could be affected.
Coronavirus Pandemic Watch

According to the MDH latest tally (as of Sept 27, 11 a.m.) the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are 96,734 (out of 1,981,100 tested) with 2,008 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins database (as of Sept 27, 4:23 p.m.) there are 7,105,604 confirmed covid19 infection with 204,721 deaths. Globally the covid19 virus has infected 32,945,376 with 995,608 deaths.