By George Stahl
Special to the Sun
COVID-1., the Coronavirus. Just reading that conjures up frightening times, and thoughts. The pandemic, the latest in a line of pandemics that have stricken the world in the last 102 years is a very scary, terrible and deadly virus. If it is anything like the previous viruses, we’ve had to fight off, it will not go quietly, but, it will be conquered.
In 1918, at the end of WWI, U.S. soldiers brought more than their wounds and heavy hearts home with them. They didn’t know it, but while they were overseas, they came into contact with a strain of avian flu, and it came along for the ride.
Within just a year, this influenza spread across the country and into the rest of the world. No one knew what to do. When they realized how quickly this new H1N1 class virus, known as the ‘Spanish Flu’ was spreading, the official stand against the virus was isolation and quarantine. Very good, extreme, personal hygiene, disinfectants, and finally, limiting public gatherings. These efforts continued for the next year, but despite all of the warnings, all of the precautions being suggested and all of the resources, 500 million people, or 1/3 the world’s population was infected with the virus. When the dust settled, 50 million people had died the world over. 675,000 of those were in the United States. So, what stopped the Spanish Flu? Basically, it was time, and nature, and determination. The virus seemed to run its course, and then as suddenly as it appeared, it stopped spreading. There were vaccines, but strangely enough, people just stopped getting the flu. President Woodrow Wilson, however, was not so lucky. Both he and future president, Franklin Roosevelt were infected and survived. Wilson served for two more years.
40 years later, in 1957, the Asian Flu, H2N2, started in Singapore and in a year had claimed 1.1 million people worldwide, 116,000 in the United States. Had anything changed in those 40 years? What did they have then that the people in 1918 didn’t have? Television. The world had gotten a whole lot smaller when the black and white pictures came into living rooms across the country. Reports and updates and warnings were given to the public daily. Did this contribute to the containment of the virus? Maybe, but according to Encylopedia.com, a workable vaccine was limitedly available by August of 1958. Together with communication and science, the pandemic was controlled.
In 2009, 51 years later, an H1N1 virus known as the ‘Swine Flu’ came onto the scene, and soon spread to pandemic proportions, where almost every country in the world had one form or another of what was being called, ‘The Swine Flu’. Heavy warnings were issued, testing was implemented and hospitals were filling up. People were admonished to stay indoors if they were sick, isolation, quarantine, were called for, and large gatherings were discouraged. The Swine Flu infected an estimated 700 million people, claiming over 575,000 lives worldwide. Approximately 80 percent of the people infected in the United States were younger than 65 years old. The strategy here? The same as the previous virus. Isolation, avoiding large gatherings and washing your hands two to three times a day.
The Swine Flu ran its course, and in August of 2010, according to the CDC, the outbreak was over. None of these viruses are gone, however. They’re all still out there and they are still finding victims. They’re by no means on the same level as a pandemic, or even an epidemic, but according to the CDC, approximately 100,000 people are infected with one flu or another each year, and 36,000 Americans die from complications due to the flu annually.
On December 31, 2019, 11 years after the last pandemic, a new strain of the virus with the potential to be more devastating than the previous ones emerged from China, and soon spread throughout the world. Acting pretty much like an H1N1 virus, this virus, COVID-19, grabbed hold of someone and like a wildfire in a cardboard box, engulfed the whole world in a matter of days. Once again, we have been told to wash our hands frequently, don’t touch our faces, and do not have large gatherings. As of now, there is no vaccine, and the population is increasing. Like in other cases, we have been admonished by everyone from President Trump, to the actor, Hugh Jackman, to wash our hands. We are given what seems to be a minute by minute update on the status of the virus.
From 1918 to 2009, the average person did not have a clue as to what was going on in real-time. Today, we are bombarded with information, almost to the point of information overload. Schools, churches, restaurants, and bars are closing for a few weeks at a time. In all of the panic, choices are being made by a very scared and confused world. We need to be informed, but be careful that what you read is accurate. The perpetuation of fear is being built on inaccurate and misleading statements on Social Media. Be discerning in what you read and hear. Talk to your doctor. Use your common sense, and look at history. In each of those pandemics from the past, a vaccine, not a cure was developed. They are still in the world, but they are no longer the same threat. Faith in humanity, faith in our determination, and faith in God will get us to the other side of this virus. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost their lives.
Our hopes and prayers are with those working on stopping COVID-19.