Spanish Flu vs COVID-19 | What makes them different?

We’ve all heard the comparisons: COVID-19 is just like the Spanish flu of 1918. But just how fair is it to compare the two?

The Spanish flu is credited as the deadliest pandemic in recorded history, with an estimated 500 million infected globally. And, as of 9 April, the World Health Organisation (1) reports 1.44 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.

What makes them different?

There are many things that make COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu different. Before we explore them, let’s discuss what makes them similar. Unfortunately, the thing they most have in common is their contagiousness. Both also shut down life as we know it: Businesses and schools are closed, and people are being asked to stay at home to stop the rate of new infections.

One of the biggest differences between our current pandemic and the one from 1918 is our advancements in health care infrastructure and medical technology. People who contracted the Spanish flu often died within days. Treatment for it was extremely limited, and there were no vaccines. While people are still dying from COVID-19, there are medications and medical devices like ventilators that can help improve survival rates. Scientists worldwide currently are racing to create a vaccine, with a team at the University of Pittsburgh (2) announcing it is close.

Another major difference is the symptoms (3) associated with the Spanish flu versus COVID-19. Key symptoms of the Spanish flu included nausea, fever, aches and diarrhoea. COVID-19 causes cough, fever and shortness of breath. An estimated 80 per cent of all COVID-19 cases are mild.

And lastly, the Spanish flu spread quickly because it erupted during World War I, when troops were moving from place to place. With COVID-19, most countries have enacted travel restrictions to help reduce the spread of the disease. 

Did the government take better measures this time?

The Spanish flu and COVID-19 are not the only global pandemics we’ve experienced in the last century. We’ve also had H1N1, SARS and Ebola. With each pandemic, government response and cooperation among levels of government have varied.

With the Spanish flu, government officials initially played down the severity of the issue, which hurt efforts to get the virus under control. Eventually, governments proposed an earlier version of what we’ve come to affectionately refer to as social distancing. It was successful (4) in helping to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. Governments today are instituting the same protocol and have done so sooner than later in an attempt to flatten the curve. So far, the efforts appear to be producing promising results.

Leadership that works well together – from the Prime Minister to the Minister for Education to the Minister of Health and Social Care – is key to successfully combating any pandemic. When leaders at all levels are able to agree, it makes it easier for people to follow recommendations such as social distancing and work and school closures.

The government’s willingness to enact measures sooner rather than later with COVID-19 has helped to control the spread of the virus. Schools closed until further notice in mid-March, with a full lockdown instituted for all residents. Residents are now barred from leaving home for nonessential reasons. 

Can we prevent future pandemics?

Global pandemics are devastating. They crash the global economy. People are left jobless. People get sick and many die.

How can we prevent future pandemics? The sad reality is, no matter how prepared we think we are, pandemics may not be completely avoidable. But there are steps we can take to help minimise them and their damaging effects.

  1. Practice better sanitation and hygiene.
    If there's one thing we’ve repeatedly heard during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the value of properly washing our hands. Keeping ourselves and our environment sanitary is the best way to prevent the spread of disease.
  2. Improve monitoring of wildlife trade and animal markets.
    While scientists still are not entirely sure where COVID-19 originated, it is strongly believed that animal markets played a role in the spread of the disease from an animal to a person. These practices need to be monitored and regulated, when necessary, to prevent the future spread of disease.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line: Pandemics may not be preventable. But taking measures to improve hygiene is a great first step in slowing the spread of disease.

Handwashing is still the recommended way to sanitise hands. When access to soap and water isn’t immediately available, hand sanitiser (5) is effective against virus cells. Just rub it in your hands for at least 30 seconds and be sure to cover your entire hand for best results.

Order your hand sanitiser no, HERE !

 

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