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An Insight from the past- THE SPANISH FLU

The biggest challenge that we are facing today, world as one unit, is the spread of novel Coronavirus. A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. To answer what is a coronavirus.? According to WHO- Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). To answer what are the symptoms: It depends on the virus, but common signs include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Apart from all the cautionaries we are following, what we also need to have is an insight from the past to know the nature of these severe viruses and the impact they can have if not handled well. This blog gives you the story of the biggest epidemic that hit the world in 1918 ‘The Spanish Flu’.

In the end of World war, I, in 1918, a young American soldier was deployed to the French front. However, the young man was attacked by an invisible enemy before he even shot himself. At first it was a minor cold. Then, it worsened, the whole body gradually turned blue.As per testimony: Blood flowed through my mouth, ears, nose and even my eyes, and I couldn’t breathe properly, and eventually I lost my life. During the six months from the fall of 1918 to the spring of 1919, many people died of the same symptoms as this young man. It was the Spanish flu that took their lives.

The Spanish flu which is also referred to as Spanish Lady received a wrong name due to war censorship. Both the allied forces and those of the central command suffered great losses due to the Spanish flu, but the parties at war restricted the information so that it didn’t reach the enemy, since it could use it to their advantage. However, the Spanish newspaper, which was not censored [because of neutral participation of Spain], spoke openly of the millions of Spaniards who had died during the months of May and June 1918 from the flu, and this information reached the whole world. Currently, the lethality of the influenza was not very strong, about 0.04 to 0.65%. Moreover, people started recovering, returning to the normal state of war.

The source of the second wave is also untestable. Some say that it came from a British ship. It is known that in late august, the U.S. and the France had outbreaks of influenza at almost the same time. At this time, the influenza virus strain was far lethal than the first wave, a new virus strain was produced- it came back and spread throughout the week all around the world. It affected the young and the middle-aged people aged between 20 to 35. In addition to high fever and headache, the symptoms include blue face and hemoptysis. This second wave had a huge impact on all parts of the world. In sierra Leone, which was the first to be hit, it lost 3% of the country’s population within a month.

During the third wave the virus killed many again, this time the mortality rate was between the previous two waves. It is said that the inhabitants of the big cities did poorly. New York city buried 33000 victims. Philadelphia lost nearly 13000 people just in matter of weeks. According to the nurse who was treating the patients:

The morgues were packed almost to the ceiling with bodies stacked one on top of another. The morticians worked day and night. You could never turn around without seeing a big red truck loaded with caskets for the trains station so bodies could be sent home. We didn’t have time to treat them. We didn’t take temperatures; we didn’t even have time to take blood pressure. We were just giving them hot whiskey that’s about all we had time to do. They would have terrific nose bleeds with it. Sometimes the blood would just shoot across the room.


In the summer of 1920, the virus disappeared as it had arrived.

However, it infected 500 million people worldwide and killed 50 million to 100 million people in 1918, making it the deadliest and the most widespread epidemic in human history. Three lessons to be learnt are:

  • Isolation: is the most effective mean
  • Be informed: Information Is the good medicine
  • Change of Concept: adopt most effective treatments and methods

During the past epidemic we lacked in a lot of resources which led to such massive destruction for e.g. lack of proper worldwide information, antibiotics, carelessness due to an ongoing war, etc. However now we are well prepared with faster testing kits, severe researches and a proper worldwide connectivity. With positivity in minds we shouldn’t forget how the virus returned in waves and caused worldwide destructions.

As per WHO, till now worldwide we have: 6194533 confirmed cases; 376320 confirmed deaths; and 216 countries/territories/ areas with cases.

Below is list of Do’s and Don’ts to save ourselves.


  • Cover your nose and mouth with disposable tissue or handkerchief.
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Person suffering from Influenza like illness must be confined at home.
  • Stay more than an arm distance away from the person sick from flu.
  • Take adequate sleep and rest.
  • Drink plenty of water. Take nutritious food.
  • Person suspected with influenza must consult a doctor


  • Touching eyes, nose, mouth with unwashed hands while coughing or sneezing.
  • Hugging kissing and shaking hands while greeting.
  • Spitting in public places.
  • Taking medicine without consulting the doctors.
  • Disposal of used napkin in an open area.
  • Touching surfaces usually used by public (railing, door, gates, etc.)

Stay Informed. Stay Safe.

To read more on the Spanish flu: Follow through books: The Spanish Flu by Richard T. Morgan; The Great Influenza The story of the deadliest Pandemic in history by John M. Barry.

Happy reading!!!

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