100th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Karie Thomas
  • 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
With an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide and nearly 500 million infected, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic stands as one of the worst pandemics in world history.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, the odds were stacked against the world as the pandemic struck in the midst of World War I. The lack of vaccines and antibiotics, inferior control efforts limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants and limitations of public gatherings, were insufficient countermeasures to stop the spread of the disease. To make matters worse, the precautions were applied unevenly. Troop movement across the world, in addition to poor prevention and treatment options, enabled the virus to run rampant and kill millions.

This pandemic served as a catalyst for drastic changes in how we handle and treat the flu but this virus, with all its strains, still remains a threat to society.

Since 1918, the Centers for Disease Control have implemented a global influenza surveillance system, which tracks all reported flu activity. This, in turn, helps with the creation of the next year’s vaccine. The prevalent strains are the basis of the developing vaccine that will then be distributed to the public and act as the first line of defense. As opposed to 1918, health care professionals are equipped with antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia which contribute to a majority of flu-related deaths.

Rather than reacting defensively, we can work to be on the offensive. Follow these helpful tips to prevent you or your loved ones from contracting the flu virus:
• Wash your hands as often as possible with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water is unavailable, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Cover your nose and mouth if you sneeze or cough and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as these are easy ways for germs to spread.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that sick people come into contact with.
• Receive your flu shot.

If you become sick, follow these practices:
• Limit contact with other people. Do not go to work or school.
• It is advised that anyone sick with an influenza-like illness remain at home for at least 24 hours after the fever dies down.
• Drink plenty of fluids and take any prescribed medications as ordered.

According to the CDC, flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people, especially children, may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may also be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Information for this article was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.