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Covid-19 and forgotten lesson from Spanish Flu that killed 4 crore people

History repeats itself. It's an old cliché that we hear often. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought back conversations around past pandemics. Four of them are being talked about the most -- 2009 Swine Flu, 1968 Hong Kong Flu, 1957-58 Asian Flu and 1918-20 Spanish Flu. The MERS of 2012-13 was not a pandemic. All these historical pandemics being talked about right now have been some kind of influenza or similar diseases.

Covid-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, is the least fatal of them all -- till date. Spanish Flu was the most fatal and is also the most-talked about historical flu right now. It killed about 4-5 crore people worldwide.

Every tragedy leaves behind a lesson that helps us prevent or better deal with future catastrophes as long as it is not forgotten. Spanish Flu and Covid-19 have uncanny similarities in the lesson the two pandemics offer to human kind.

Just like in the case of Covid-19, there was no known medicine available to treat Spanish Flu. The world of medical science was in a nascent stage back then. Developing a vaccine against Spanish Flu was out of question. The first flu vaccine came on the scene only in 1940. The first antibiotic medicine came in 1928, years after Spanish Flu had ravaged the human population.

It was lockdown, social distancing and masks that saved the world, particularly the developed one, back then. Health professionals in America and Europe wore face masks to reduce chances of contracting Spanish Flu while treating patients, who were coming in huge numbers every day.

Some American cities enforced lockdowns, not exactly like the ones today, but they cancelled public events and asked people to keep distance. Two American cities are particularly worth looking at -- Philadelphia and St Luis. Both the cities were impacted by Spanish Flu.

While Philadelphia went about its business as usual, St Luis imposed restrictions. One month later, the number of those dying of Spanish Flu in Philadelphia was around 10,000. On the other hand, the death toll in St Luis was only around 700. Many other cities that had closed their churches, schools, theatres and other public places reported fewer Spanish Flu deaths than cities that had not enforced lockdowns or asked people to practice social distancing.

In the treatment of Spanish Flu, the doctors accidentally discovered that those forced to spend their recuperating time under direct sun and in open air recovered faster than those kept in cooler places, inside the hospital rooms or under the shades.

Jump to the present. The US government recently revealed details of a study that has found that exposure to direct sunlight could reduces the number of novel coronavirus particles by half in just two minutes. News agency AFP has quoted a department of homeland security official to say that this happens when temperature is 21-24 degree Celsius and humidity is around 80 per cent.

Now, research also shows that open or well-ventillated places are better in reducing the chances of coronavirus infection. Researchers have found that using air-conditioners in a room where a Covid-19 patient is being kept can increase the chances of spread of infection. The Indian government has issued an advisory on how to use air-conditioners during coronavirus outbreak.

Spanish Flu had changed the world in many ways. It paved a new path for future. Experts are already saying that the 21st century will not be the same as it existed before the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Spanish Flu, combined with the World War -I (1914-19), saw a sudden change in sex ratio in the world's population. More men had died in these two catastrophes. This pushed women for the first time towards the job market in large numbers. This explains why America saw a sudden surge in women professionals during 1920s, otherwise called the Roaring Twenties. The two events also warranted investment in the markets. The economies bloomed before the Great Depression happened in 1929.

People are talking about a similar reorientation of workforce, not necessarily on gender lines but some fresh bottomlines may be drawn.

Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of exiting healthcare systems and infrastructure of all the countries -- rich or poor. This calls for a relook of healthcare investments in different countries.

Spanish Flu, interestingly, strengthened the idea of a welfare state under constitutional framework. At the global level, the League of Nations (a precursor to the United Nations) founded THE Health Organisation in 1923 which became the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1948.

Now, nations are pressing for reform at the WHO. The world body's role has come under severe criticism in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China and its progress as pandemic is affecting the entire globe.

The Covid-19 pandemic may end up reshaping the world just like Spanish Flu along similar or different contours. Lessons from both the pandemics are, however, almost the same - masks, lockdown, social distancing, cleaner air and sunrays are tools to fight next pandemic because that too will not have a vaccine or a known medical protocol for treatment.

News Courtesy: India Today


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