Impacting nearly 500 million people globally and striking for more than two years between 1918 and 1920, the Spanish flu decimated the global population and brought a shocking halt to the life people once knew.
As we find ourselves in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the obvious question for many is, how was the Spanish flu eventually overcome? Scientific research, widely adopted mitigation techniques, and broad cooperation helped slow the spread until the world could achieve global immunity and eventually turn the tide on this fast-moving and fatal disease.
Early in the Spanish flu crisis, people began to move their health care facilities to large open spaces or even the outdoors. Doctors and nurses caring for patients noticed that the infection rate decreased among fellow staff when infected individuals were cared for outdoors or in open and airy spaces.
Soon, other businesses and events learned that it was possible to reduce the risk of infection if they could provide enough space and air circulation between people. Outdoor barbershops and gatherings soon took precedent and helped slow infection rates, build immunity, and finally defeat the Spanish flu.
Working with infected patients daily for nearly two years helped medical professionals learn to practice increased hygiene. The first step in their fight against the Spanish flu was to allow the doctors and nurses to build their immunity to work and interact with suffering patients.
Increased hygiene and regular handwashing allowed medical professionals to safely work with patients, reducing the chance of spreading the fatal disease. Medical professionals also promoted improved hygiene practices to the larger population to prevent the spread of the flu.
In the early 20th century, the scientific community quickly learned that the dangerous Spanish flu spread by coughing and sneezing. Doctors and nurses would regularly wear clean, cloth face masks to protect themselves from infection, and the world at large soon adopted the same practice.
People around the world could be seen donning face masks to better protect themselves. Wearing a face mask when interacting with other people allowed the population to slowly develop immunity, which eventually defeated the global pandemic that had destroyed lives and families for more than two years.
While we may begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel with our current ongoing world health crisis, it has been a long, tiring, and sad journey indeed. Science and world cooperation has brought us close to the point of victory, but not without a little help from the past. Understanding similar past health crises, like the Spanish flu, betters our understanding today.
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