Some Flu Pandemics We’ve Forgotten
By Tom Morrow
Influenza is a common name for a variety of viruses the world has lived with for hundreds of years. For those of us walking around today, the better part of the last century and so far, the present has been one “pandemic” after another … whether we’ve been aware of it or not.
Historically speaking, influenza often is a nationally labeled virus, usually identified as the point of origin. For the past 100-plus years the world has endured no less than seven world-wide pandemics.
The first and most deadly was the 1918-20 pandemic known as the “Spanish Flu.” It was so-named because Spain is generally regarded as it’s starting point. Its global mortality rate greatly exacerbated that of World War I. The pandemic killed some 500-plus million, more than were killed in the war. At the time that figure represented 27 percent of the world’s population.
After that great mortality leveler, things were quiet in the U.S. until 1957-58.” In 1956, or early 1967, the first cases of the so-called “Asian Flu” were reported in Guizhou of southern China. That pandemic eventually killed an estimated 1 million to 4 million around the globe.
During the “Asian Flu,” the U.S. stock market lost 15 percent of its value in the second half of 1957, plus we experienced a recession. In the United Kingdom, the government paid out some £10 million (British pounds) in sickness benefits, and several factories and mines had to close. Some 17 schools shut down in Dublin, Ireland.
A decade later, (1968-69), the “Hong Kong Flu” hit our shores, followed by the “Russian Flu,” which began its world-wide journey in 1977, killing more than 500,000 world-wide. It lasted until well into 1979.
The “Bird Flu” and the “Swine Flu” lasted about 19 months of 2009 and 2010. Those two strains, combined, claimed up to as many as 700,000 deaths world-wide.
The normal varied strains of what we know as the traditional annual flu kills upwards of 250,000 to 500,000 annually. But, that figure more or less goes unnoticed in the media. Most of us have become accustom to dodging the flu season by getting an annual “shot,” which generally works. The annual season runs from late fall to early spring.
The current world-wide pandemic known as “Covid-19,” (short for “Coronavirus,”) is bad. Here in our nation things seem to be leveling off due to the recent development of vaccines. These newly developed antidotes have helped richer nations such as we turn the tide on Covid-19. However, in some South American and African countries, as well as in certain European nations things are still bad. But, in India on the Asian sub-continent is getting worse by the hour, as many as 12,000 die daily. In the month of May India reported 800,000 to 1 million cases. To date, possibly more than 25 million lives around the globe have been identified as Covid-19 victims … a low figure compared to the 500 million-plus victims of “Spanish Flu.” The final tabulation of Covid-19 may not be known for years to come. For the families of Covid-19 victims, one is too many.
The first confirmed death of this present pandemic was in Wuhan on Jan. 9, 2020. The first reported death in the U.S. was on Feb. 6, 2020.
This latest pandemic has resulted in significant social and economic disruption around the globe, including the largest world-wide recession since the Great Depression. Covid-19 has led to widespread commodity supply shortages exacerbated by panic buying, agricultural disruption, and food shortages. Many laid-off workers are reluctant to go back to their jobs because of generous government handouts.
The “good news” from the present pandemic is there have been decreased emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases, but there has been too much distribution of misinformation through social and mass media. The current pandemic has raised issues of racial and geographic discrimination, health inequities and the balance between public health imperatives and individual rights.
Official deaths from Covid-19 generally refer to people who died after testing positive. The present U.S. estimate of more than 3 million is climbing daily. These counts might ignore deaths of people who die without having been tested or of mis-diagnosis of other maladies.
The good news: more than 95 percent of the people who contract Covid-19 recover. Otherwise, the time between symptoms onset and death usually ranges from 6 to 41 days … typically about 14 days. As of May 10, of this year, more than 3.29 million deaths have been attributed to Covid-19. People at the greatest risk of mortality from Covid-19 tend to be those with underlying conditions such as a weakened immune system, serious heart or lung problems, severe obesity, or the elderly.
As bad as we think things are today, history tells us it could be worse. Dozens of books will be written in years to come telling the reader just how bad we had it. Covid-19 will be a big chapter in future history books.