My upcoming novel due to be released in 2023, is set during an era when the 1918-1919 H1N1 virus grew into a pandemic. That pandemic is one of the challenges faced by the central protagonist in the novel. I wrote the story before the current SARS-Cov-2 (Covid-19) virus hit us, but much of what I discovered through historical research for my book rings true today.
Before we developed tailor-made vaccines for the various Covid-19 virus mutations, we were very much in a situation which resembled that of the twentieth century pandemic. Back then, the virus travelled globally, hitching a ride with service men and women returning to their homes from Europe at the end of World War 1. In the allied countries H1N1 was initially known as ‘the German Disease’. It received the probably inaccurate title of ‘Spanish Flu’ after King Alfonso XIII of Spain fell ill but recovered. One hundred years later we had ex-President Trump referring to our coronavirus pandemic as the ‘Chinese Virus’. But despite this blame-game, some recognise that the ferocity of the pandemic acts as a call to co-operate for the good of each other, especially when we make personal choices about mask-wearing, hand-sanitising and social-distancing.
When the H1N1 flu pandemic ravaged the globe, then, as now, preventative measures were enforced. Popular public places were closed, quarantine areas were established, ships and travellers were quarantined, and face-masks were worn. But back then, medical professionals were in the frustrating position of knowing what caused the deadly virus to spread so savagely, yet despite best efforts, were unable to develop a vaccine. More people died from this virus than those killed during World War 1 (about 2.7% of 1.8 billion people). It was the worst pandemic of the twentieth century.
As we experience another year of the Covid-19 nightmare, our twenty-first century lives are still being impacted by a pandemic. We are in a time of nervous anticipation as scientists and governments race to produce and deliver vaccines for each new mutation of the virus, to deliver to a global population of over 7 billion people. For our talented and hard-working scientists and front-line medical workers who care for the afflicted, who witness its tragedies daily, it’s a tough job.
(Photo above by permission of the State Library of Queensland – nurses during the 1918 influenza pandemic)