Health and ArtMaria Ines Rebelo
The Spanish Flu (1918-1919)
It makes perfect sense to talk about health these days. This has become our greatest concern. Today we revive memories of our collective past, which were recorded in the historical archives of the human mind, and which now resurrect through the testimonies of those who survived other Pandemics.
For this reason, and because in my book “Hypnosis, The Return to the Past” there is an allusion to the confrontation between conventional medicine and alternative medicines, I will use this blog space to explore traces of history on the health of populations over the centuries.
But has it really changed that much over time? Or are we – Humanity – forgotten that we are mortal in the face of disease, and not just vulnerable to war?
Who thought, in the year 2020, that we would have to fight to survive a virus?
Covid-19 and the Spanish Flu
In its relationship with the Covid-19, much has been speculated about the similarities of the current Pandemic with the Spanish flu (also known as pneumonic flu or “Influenza”) from 1918-1919. In both cases, there is a profound economic and social impact on communities.
In fact, the flu that would kill (known today) around 100 million people during 1918 and 1918 was eclipsed from the annals of history in a world devastated by World War I. Many of the deaths attributed to the war were due to the influence, direct or indirect, of this global pandemic that will have appeared for the first time (although there are other theories) at the military base at Fort Riley, in the United States.
The true proportion of certain global events, however, is only understood in the light of scientific and technological developments: this is what happened in this case.
The identification of the virus with the subtype H1N1 of Influenza A (responsible for the Spanish flu) was only carried out in the 1930s, which is why no vaccine was developed until the end of the Pandemic in 1919. Like Covid-19 disease, no vaccine was available at the time during its most critical period.
On the other hand, and as today, there were other epidemics that were spreading parallel to the “Influenza”, especially other seasonal influenza outbreaks, which made the counting of the dead and infected by the former difficult to ascertain.
The same lessons have been drawn during this year of 2020, which will go down in history as the Year of the Pandemic, in our new modernity. Here too, the scientific and medical community has realised that this is a new phenomenon: there is no immunisation of the population, because we are facing a new disease circulating among human beings.
New rules of hygiene and socialization: once again, the lessons of history
In reviewing some of the historical aspects of Influenza’, I was surprised at the similarity between the disease control rules applicable at the beginning of the 20th century and today’s rules in relation to Covid-19. That is why I think it is so important to know the contours of history, because it helps us to understand our scale of evolution.
It must be stressed that the First World War helped the rapid spread of pneumonic flu, which proved highly contagious. Although we do not live today in a war on a planetary scale, there are other phenomena of the spread of diseases: globalisation. One hundred years after the Pandemic in 1918, we are once again experiencing another, with a wide spread, as a result of the mobility of human beings, to every corner of the Earth, in a world increasingly interconnected.
But after all, what measures were taken in 1918 to control pneumonic flu? Here follows a list of them, which will leave us all surprised by their similarity to those that are applied, in several countries, in this year of 2020:
– Frequent hand washing was advised;
– Cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneezed;
– Widespread use of masks lined with several layers of gauze;
– Conditioning in the use of public transport;
– Prohibition of gatherings/crowds and demonstrations;
– Closure of schools and religious temples;
– Creation of isolation wards for the infected in hospitals and implementation of sanitary fences in cities.
It is interesting to note that in the world of 1918, without the medical and scientific knowledge of our days, there were already recurrent practices of prophylaxis, even without knowing which was the pathogen that caused the diseases.
This is something that I would like to highlight in my article: there is an instinct in the human being that leads him to adopt certain measures, although he is unaware of all the circumstances of his environment. To give just one example, it was during this period that the use of the mask became widespread in Japan, without yet being fully known, the benefits of this practice for the containment of pneumonic influenza. I think that all this gives food for thought.
The Flu and the Arts
Man acts on instinct. And it was through instinct that human beings tried to survive the greatest privations, especially diseases. That’s what happened in relation to the Spanish flu, and the same thing is happening now, in relation to Covid-19.
I decided to dedicate a space in my blog, to Health and the Arts. That’s why I’d like to mention the impact of the pneumonic flu in the world of arts at 1918.
First of all, the death of renowned artists of the time and other personalities who played a prominent role in society, in several areas, as a direct consequence of “Influenza”. For those who survived, the Spanish flu had a traumatic effect on the population, which was also fought through the expression of art in its multiple manifestations. Art that we can still appreciate today.
To mention, the novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus.
Camus tried to demonstrate how a Pandemic can test the nature of human beings. Although the book was only published in 1947, the writer had a quick and attentive perception of the effects of a Pandemic.
Born in 1913, Camus was very young, when pneumonic flu appeared. Even so, what is visible is that the world kept its wounds and sorrows for several decades, in relation to the consequences of the Pandemic of 1918. These wounds, which came to be told through the Power of Words.