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Health historian finds similarities between COVID-19 pandemic and 1918 pandemic

By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square

(The Center Square) — A Northern Illinois University history professor has been studying the similarities between the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 50 million people died worldwide from the Spanish flu. The outbreak has been called the Spanish flu because Spain was the first country to publicly report cases of the disease. It’s not clear exactly how or where the 1918 influenza outbreak began, but, at some point, the novel H1N1 virus passed from birds to humans.

As with COVID-19i, the world experienced a second wave of infections. Northern Illinois University history professor Dr. Beatrice Howard said World War I was to blame.

“U.S. troops brought it with them to Europe and then it mutated over there in conditions of great overcrowding and then they brought it back home,” Howard said.

As with the COVID-19 pandemic, many health officials recommended masks and social distancing as ways to slow the spread of the virus.

“Unfortunately like today, every part of the country did it differently, and different cities did it differently, so we know that the cities that took stronger social distancing measures earlier and more consistently actually had better results,” Howard said.

The strain of H1N1 from the 1918 pandemic is still around. Health experts believe pandemics that have happened since are still directly related to the 1918 ancestor.

What eventually ended the Spanish flu pandemic? Howard said that the virus eventually mutated and became less lethal, but the coronavirus isn’t mutating much, offering hope for a cure.

“Influenza mutates so quickly that they have to make a new vaccine every year, but this coronavirus hasn’t changed that much which makes a vaccine much more feasible,” Howard said.

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