I love anniversaries, especially if they are of happy events. But remembering tragedies on the date they roll back around is just as important, and probably more informative.
Among the big ones this year is the 100th anniversary of the most devastating influenza pandemic our planet has ever experienced. 20 to 100 million people died of the 1918-19 “Spanish” flu worldwide — up to 5% of the population at the time. The scariest aspect of the Spanish flu was that it picked off the young and healthy, rather than the older or immune-compromised we usually consider prime targets. Some researchers theorize that the flu’s devastation even affected the endgame of World War I.
Science Daily has the breakdown of scientists’ attempts to learn the lessons of the Spanish flu, and apply them to the next pandemic that will come our way. A lot has changed, both in our environment and in our physical selves :
“The authors identify public health as another important factor. In 1918, people suffering from malnutrition and underlying diseases, such as tuberculosis, were more likely to die from the infection. This is still relevant today: climate change could result in crop losses and malnutrition, while increasing antibiotic resistance could see bacterial infections becoming more prevalent. Future pandemics will also face the challenge of obesity, which increases the risk of dying from influenza.”
There is a straightforward way of taking responsibility for our own immune systems though: by getting vaccinated for flu. (Of course, if you are medically cleared for it; i.e. you’ve never had Guillain-Barré, or you’re not allergic to any of the vaccine’s components.) While lots of people have strong opinions about not getting a flu shot, there is strong evidence that it will reduce your chances of catching the flu (or its severity if you do). That’s not only better for your health, but for that of the more vulnerable children and elderly folks around you.
We’re social creatures — we make art, fight wars, and get sick alongside each other. While that makes it easier for a virus to run through us, it’s also our strength in combating it. Good luck this centenary flu season, and here’s hoping we’ll be ready for the next big one!