Dr. Lisa Ide
Chief Medical Officer

In the early days of the crisis, most citizens followed the health authorities’ rules, including the orders to don masks. As the epidemic retreated, however, resistance rose.”

No, that’s not a modern news headline, interview excerpt, or social media post—it’s a quote from Nancy Bristow’s book American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Over a century later, quotes from her book could make headlines in mainstream media. 

“Before long, any illusions of the danger of the encroaching {pandemic} were destroyed by the stories unfolding across the nation.”

500 million people—one third of humans around the world, were infected in the 1918-1919 pandemic and there were 50 million deaths worldwide. This was before ventilators, ICUs, and antivirals—and also before the commercial air travel and massive migration patterns that we have now. The 1918 pandemic lasted almost two years until the influenza settled into a seasonal pattern.

“Even as many physicians maintained the essential familiarity of the disease, increasingly they admitted that they were also confronting something unusual. Others stressed that this one was in a class all its own. Another physician noted how ghastly he found his experience of watching his patients, too many in number, progress rapidly toward death.”

Comparisons between the 1918 pandemic and the era of COVID-19 have been happening since the outbreak began in March. With the striking similarities, it is tempting to look for clues as to how our own pandemic era will progress. Unfortunately, as epidemiologists like to say, “If you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen one pandemic.”

“Authorities in small towns and major cities moved to prohibit public meetings and prevent public crowding of every possible sort.”

However, we have two big advantages in 2020: virtual care to aid in treating high patient volumes and a phenomenal volume of scientific research and analysis happening daily. I am hopeful that we will soon have additional information about immunity, regional and personal variations in infection rates, and possible avenues to prevention.

Until then, stay safe, wear your masks, wash your hands, and keep social distancing.

Tags: industry

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