"It is as if the virus has decided to run circles around us."
In 1918, it was the Spanish flu. In 2019, COVID-19. Every generation seems to have its own share of a deadly virus threatening its very existence. Earlier, there was the bubonic plague and before that leprosy which ravaged and decimated the global population.
It seems a plague visits the world every century or half a century or even just over a quarter century as happened with SARs, MERs and Ebola, not to mention HIV which came almost all at the same time in the last half of the 20th century reminding one and all about the finiteness of our beings. While most of these past deadly occurrences have since been conquered, some scientists believe the viruses causing these remain and are liable to be activated at any given time triggered by any anomaly which may be injected as humanity moves on tinkering with the natural order of things.
The 1918 Spanish influenza was known to have been caused by a virus (H1N1 influenza) postulated to be of avian origin and lasted for three years from 1918 to 1920. Records show that it came in four waves: The first wave was from 15 February 1918 to 1 June 1918; the second from 1 August 1918 to 2 December 1918; the third from 3 December 1918 to 30 April 1919; and the fourth wave from 1 December 1919 to 30 April 1920.
Records show that the disease was so deadly it infected about 500 million people, roughly one-third of the world’s population at that time, and resulted in the deaths of 50 million, including 675,000 Americans. The first public news of the epidemic appeared in Madrid on 22 May 1918 in Madrid’s ABC newspaper; hence, it became known as the Spanish Flu. . A week later on 28 May 1918, King Alfonso XIII, the Prime Minister and some cabinet members became ill. French authorities later reported bouts of the deadly disease infecting soldiers fresh from the trenches in the Avignon defense line and even farther afar. However, there is no definite evidence of its origin. Most epidemiologists and virologists now believe that the virus originated in either the USA or France as the soldiers who fought in the European theater during World War 1 returned home. In the United States, the disease was first detected in soldiers coming from Europe being processed for deactivation in an army camp in Kansas. The scare which followed after was such that it took some time before medical and health authorities on both sides of the Atlantic which bore the brunt of the burden could declare “fire out.”
The economic impact of the Spanish flu was equally devastating. Still reeling from the ravages of war, Europe saw the collapse of empires, massive migration from the most devastated areas, collapse in many productive sectors from agriculture to industry and the temporary closure of basic services from postal service, telegraph services and even transportation. Many banks and financial services collapsed, property foreclosures intensified and widespread industrial strikes ensued. The most significant tectonic shift happened in Russia with the fall of the Romanovs and their empire and the rise of the proletarian state led by Lenin. Subsequent mass uprisings happened in other parts including France, Germany and most of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
It was only Britain among the colonizing monarchies which survived relatively intact albeit with cries of independence hovering over its overseas territories. The impact in the United States which was late in getting suckered into the war was not as devastating but equally problematic. Industrial production was down, banking and financial services were in disarray and agricultural activities were wasting away.
There is no denying the heavy toll that the Spanish flu imposed on the world at that time. While the world has since evolved many times over and scientific and medical research has successfully discovered treatments of the various viral infections as well as the ways and means to deter the ravaging effect of known diseases such as cancer, heart failures, diabetes and other mainstream diseases of the recent century, there remain lurking uncharted ones which may just catch us flat-footed all over again such as COVID-19. Whether the same broke out naturally as was the original postulate or resulted from a “laboratory leak” as is increasingly being touted by a growing number of scientists and medical researchers, this virus has put the whole world on notice that tinkering with the natural order of things can be very, very costly. Thus, even as we were able to finally map the virus’ genome, installed available medical coping systems including the speedy manufacture and roll out of vaccines, the rise of various COVID-19 variants has somehow set back the global path to a “new normal.” It is as if the virus has decided to run circles around us.