• Bunasawa Kai

Coronavirus vs the Spanish Flu

Updated: May 10

These are trying times as the coronavirus pandemic is peaking in the U.S and in many other countries around the world. Death rates in the U.S have spiked above those lives lost in the Vietnam war and the contracted cases have reached close 1,200,000 with no end in sight. Many are fearful of this invisible enemy and how it spreads throughout a country, the states and small communities. With no known cure or vaccine, we have to rely on the latest scientific data and study other historical cases to find the best way to keep the country healthy. The best method of intervention the scientific community have studied is to isolate the virus by self distancing and quarantining those showing symptoms until we can find out exactly how it spreads and how to cure those who contract it. But the bigger question is how can countries do this on a grand scale while not completely destroying the economy at large.


We can reference similar cases in history such as the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that ravished the globe and killed nearly 50,000,000 people. Much like the coronavirus, the Spanish flu was a novel virus that attacked the upper respiratory system of its host creating pneumonia, high fever, organ failure with many casualties. An except from "The Toughest Man Who Ever Lived" story explains how the Spanish flu spread in the U.S: "On the 8th of March, 1918, While Koma (Judo legend) was busy working with with Japanese immigrants in Belem and enjoying his role as a first time father, soldiers at Fort Funston in Kansas had been given the odious job of burning several tons of manure comprised of various types of feces, including that of pigs, chickens as well as horses and mules. The horses alone produced nine tons of it monthly.


The heat and the quantity of manure created a rare antigenic shift in an influenza protein that had infected one or more of the animals with viral pneumonia. The results was a birth of a virus with an altered protein that jumped the species barrier and mixed with air over the fire. This new protein provided the virus with a mechanism to kill off human monocytes- the resident protectors of the body that guard against viral infection, As monocytes die off, infected people or animals have less and less ability to fight off viral attacks.

A dust storm mixed with the smoke of the fire had turn the sky ominous black. It soon drifted over the nearby town. It was inhaled by a number of ordinarily healthy towns people, including young healthy men and women in their prime. Within twenty-four hours, many who'd been touched by the infected air came to the hospital reporting a sudden onset of high fever that quickly turned into pneumonia. People began to die by the dozen and the mysterious viral infection traveled from town to town, indiscriminately infecting young and old alike. Hundreds of deaths turned to thousands, then tens of thousands. By the time it has run its course in the U.S., More than half a million people were dead from it. Somewhere along its line of March, People began to refer to this deadly virus as the Spanish flu. It quickly spread worldwide where it killed more people than the bubonic plague, World War I and World War II combined.

This unparalleled pandemic killed twenty to forty million people within a year. But many exposed people like Koma never fell victim to it while other died in weeks. Immunity to the disease quickly made its way around the world much like the backwash following a tsunami that sweeps the beach clean. Mysteriously, by the end of 1919, the Spanish flu was history.


As we face this novel coronavirus in our current times, we try to learn from the new data collected as well as the past history of other similar deadly viruses. Immediate isolation efforts have helped slow the spread but ask if we should open the economy as business and trade has come to standstill, hurting families financially. This poses a risk of a larger more deadly outbreak. World leaders are plagued with the decision to allow their countries to return to work but many question still need to be answered. Will herd immunity allow the world to eradicate the virus? How does a global economy continue operating when different neighboring countries are still showing signs of infection? Do we ban travel and how do we treat or eradicate this virus indefinitely? Only time will tell.


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