Spanish Flu | 14 Mar 2020

Why in News

As COVID-19 declared a global health crisis, parallels are being drawn with the Spanish influenza of 1918-19, which is considered the most devastating pandemic in recent history.

Key Points

  • Spanish flu was caused by an H1N1 influenza virus.
  • There is no universal consensus regarding where the virus originated. It is believed that World War I was partly responsible for it’s spread.
  • Spain was one of the earliest countries where the epidemic was identified, but historians believe this was likely a result of wartime censorship.
  • Spain was a neutral nation during the war and did not enforce strict censorship of its press, which freely published early accounts of the illness. As a result, people falsely believed the illness was specific to Spain, and the name "Spanish flu" stuck.

How was the Outbreak Tamed

  • Awareness: That word got around about this killer disease through government efforts and through informal communications.
    Social Distance: People were practising social distancing and taking other preventive steps.
  • Natural Phenomenon: The virus evolved to become milder in the process.
    • There is a theory that, as viruses propagate, the more virulent strains are unable to survive, reproduce, and propagate as effectively as the less virulent strains, because their hosts die before the virus can jump to new susceptible hosts.
  • Climatic Conditions: Differences in climate across India.
    • Influenza viruses tend to not do as well in warm and moist conditions as they do in cooler, drier conditions.

Learning from the Spanish flu

  • Quick Response: A quick initial emergency response to deal with pandemic COVID-19.Locations close to an entry point will have extremely short windows of time to deal with a virulent pathogen.
    • While locations that are distant from the entry point will have longer windows of time to prepare for and deal with less-lethal variants of the disease.
  • Hygiene: To be extra vigilant about hygiene and aggressively practice social distancing.

H1N1 Virus

  • H1N1 influenza virus causes Swine Flu.
  • Swine Flu is an infection of the respiratory tract characterized by the usual symptoms of flu — cough, nasal secretions, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, and headache.
  • It is called swine flu because it was known in the past to occur in people who had been in the vicinity of pigs.
  • The virus is transmitted by short-distance airborne transmission, particularly in crowded enclosed spaces. Hand contamination and direct contact are other possible sources of transmission.