A US Historian writes about the influenza epidemic of 2018 improperly called the Spanish Flue
At this time of pandemic some people have pointed to the past, as a way to learn from history. Author-Historian Nancy Bristow has done just that and, recently, she was interviewed by the program Hidden Brain in National Public Radio
She is the author of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds Of The 1918 Influenza Epidemic a book that saw the light before the present Covid19 pandemic. The interview allows her to comment about the present moment.
I found it interesting to hear her say that the Influenza epidemic of 1918, remembered by many as the Spanish Flue, in fact was not Spanish but originated in America as the author well states, also in the title of her book..
This virus began in early 1918 in an Army camp in Kansas, where American soldiers were training for the First World War. Doctors, then noticed that soldiers were dying with an unusual strain of influenza that affected the lungs.
Since the soldiers were moving from camp to camp in the United States they became the agents for the virus, first in the US and later on taking it to the European battle field.
By April of 2018 this first wave of the virus had spread to France and Germany and soon to Italy the British Island and Spain. But, why call it the Spanish Flue?
The historian points out that the governments involved in the war were no interested in distracting from the battle and that no country spoke about it and the damage it was causing in their own countries. They remained silent except for some ‘blue’ musicians in the US and for Spain who had remained neutral in the war and did speak about the number of people dying in that country. This is why the popular belief calls the influenza epidemic of 1918 the Spanish Flue.
The virus mutated in Europe into a more dangerous threat. It emerged simultaneously in three Continents: Sierra Leone (Africa) France and in Boston in August 27.
As historian Bristow points out, Americans focused on their victory in the war rather than on the devastation of the 1918 flu epidemic.
By the end of October1918 the entire Unites Stares has been affected, 28 % of the population became sick and 675,000.00 had died. The rate of mortality was 2.4%. By early 1919 a third wave of the virus showed up when people were beginning to relax.
Today, we all hear voices that are more concerned about saving the economy or making a profit than in stopping the spread of the virus that is killing so many and threatening to kill thousands more.
Pope Francis has expressed his concern about the consequences of this Pandemia: hunger, violence, usury.
According to media the Pope addressed a letter to Andrés Gallardo, president of the Panamerican Committe of Judges for Social Rights, expressing his admiration for all those risking their lifes to heal and preserve from the virus. His letter of March 28 also recognices tha “some government have taken measures with well established priorities to defend the population”. And even when some measures may seem unconfortable for some people, the Pope says, “governments that adopt them show their priority of putting people first. Opting for the contrary would bring many to death and it would be like a viral genocide”.
Historian Bristow comments on the current Corona Virus pandemic and says that policy makers can look back and learn from history. She stresses the importance of practicing social distancing and staying home as a way of containing the spread of the virus and points out it will be of vital importance to provide access to medical care.
You can listen to the interview by Shankan Vedantam in Hidden Brain and also find links to related reading and music. (A.Cantero)