It is an odd anniversary, but it has been 100 years since the 1918 flu pandemic known as the Spanish Flu. The deadly H1N1 influenza strain ravaged the entire world, although World War I overshadowed it. All countries but Spain did not announce the widespread deadly effects of the flu in order to keep morale high for the war. This led the pandemic to be known as the “Spanish Flu” even though it did not even originate in Spain or a Spanish country. The flu affected over one million German soldiers and was a factor in Germany’s defeat, but they would publically attribute the loss to intentional sabotage by Jews and Bolsheviks later on. We will talk about how 5% of the world population was quietly wiped out by this flu strain and whether we are any more prepared today.
The Spanish Flu of 1918
When you think of pandemics, you think of the big ones like the bubonic plague or “Black Death”. The Black Death wiped out 10% of the world’s population over a decade. The Spanish Flu wiped out 5% of the world’s population in only a year. How did this happen? A severely high infection rate of 50%. The Spanish Flu was so severe that it had a 20% mortality rate for those affected compared to the 0.1% rate of the seasonal flu. It caused lung hemorrhaging and often led to pneumonia, which was even more fatal at the time. Most people that die from seasonal flu are infants under two or over the age of 70. Most of the people that died from the Spanish Flu were between the ages of 20 and 40. It is amazing how varying severity and infection rates of a virus we are very familiar with can drastically change the impact.
How Prepared is America Today?
Modern medicine has had many advancements since 1918. We have monitoring agencies in the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization). These agencies hunt and track outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics when they occur. That’s the good news, but there is also some bad news. The global population has skyrocketed since 1918. World travel and interactions that lead to disease transmission are more frequent than ever. Despite all of the world advances in medicine- there are still many countries with inadequate medical preparations for rapid disease outbreaks. In a global pandemic, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Poor sanitation conditions and overpopulation even make outbreaks more likely to occur in these ‘weak’ areas in the first place. Global spread will occur much faster than it did in 1918, and we saw what the Spanish Flu was able to accomplish in only a year. The CDC, along with FEMA, has plans in place to react to pandemic outbreaks but we have seen the competence of these agencies in the news. Short staffing, limited resources, and logistical issues would make any response less than ideal. Individual preparation is much less common today than it was in 1918 when, ironically, it is more important than ever.
The Ways You Can Prepare for a Pandemic
An emergency survival kit should be standard in anyone’s home and a pandemic kit is a smart addition. This specialized kit can protect you and your family from becoming infected as you use the survival supplies in your main kit to survive. Key components of a pandemic kit include:
- N95 Masks – Mask covering your face with N95 or higher NIOSH ratings can reduce your chance of infection.
- Gloves – Protect your hands and try to touch as little as possible.
- Soaps, sanitizers, and disinfectants – Hygiene is important to prevent infection.
- Thermometer – Allows you to observe symptoms related to the pandemic.
You can add more to your kit, such as plastic sheeting and duct tape to create a quarantine entry/exit area for your home.
The kit is just a piece of the puzzle, however. You need to stay informed since early knowledge of a pandemic can be lifesaving. A pandemic (like most disasters, emergencies, or SHTF scenarios) will reward you for staying informed by giving you a head start on avoiding contact, bugging out, or getting your last preparations in order. The CDC publishes an outbreak list (https://www.cdc.gov/outbreaks/index.html) but it pays to use multiple sources in case they miss or withhold information.
Another thing that can prepare you for a pandemic is simple enough- training and habit breaking. Proper hand washing done frequently can go a long way in disease prevention. Training yourself to not touch your face as often is difficult, but can also reduce chance of exposure and infection. Most people touch their face up to a thousand times per day, so this may be a difficult one to manage. Lastly, tackle your bad habits. As we mentioned, touching your face in thought can lead to a higher chance of infection. Biting your nails can drastically increase the chances that you get sick. Cut out bad habits to be better prepared. Once you have a handle on your habits, stay informed and maintain your kit. All of these will help you and your family be better prepared for the Spanish Flu, Black Death, or whatever comes next!
The Final Word
It has been 100 years since the Spanish Flu, and I would have hoped that we would be a little more prepared for pandemics as a society. Personal preparedness can go a long way to improve your survivability. It is ironic how some things that could potentially save our lives are so cheap and just require a little forethought. Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.