Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918. AP Photo/National Museum of Health
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. Between 50 and 100 million people are thought to have died, representing as much as 5 percent of the world’s population. Half a billion people were infected.
Especially remarkable was the 1918 flu’s predilection for taking the lives of otherwise healthy young adults, as opposed to children and the elderly, who usually suffer most. Some have called it the greatest pandemic in history.
The 1918 flu pandemic has been a regular subject of speculation over the last century. Historians and scientists have advanced numerous hypotheses regarding its origin, spread and consequences. As a result, many of us harbor misconceptions about it.
By correcting these 10 myths, we can better understand what actually happened and learn how to prevent and mitigate such disasters in the future.
1. The pandemic originated in Spain
No one believes the so-called “Spanish flu” originated in Spain.
The pandemic likely acquired this nickname because of World War I, which was in full swing at the time. The major countries involved in the war were keen to avoid encouraging their enemies, so reports of the extent of the flu were suppressed in Germany, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S. By contrast, neutral Spain had no need to keep the flu under wraps. That created the false impression that Spain was bearing the brunt of the disease.
In fact, the geographic origin of the flu is debated to this day, though hypotheses have suggested East Asia, Europe and even Kansas.
2. The pandemic was the work of a ‘super-virus’
A Chicago Public Health poster outlines flu regulations during the pandemic. origins.osu.edu
The 1918 flu spread rapidly, killing 25 million people in just the first six months. This led some to fear the end of mankind, and has long fueled the supposition that the strain of influenza was particularly lethal.
However, more recent study suggests that the virus itself, though more lethal than other strains, was not fundamentally different from those that caused epidemics in other years.
Much of the high death rate can be attributed to crowding in military camps and urban environments, as well as poor nutrition and sanitation, which suffered during wartime. It’s now thought that many of the deaths were due to the development of bacterial pneumonias in lungs weakened by influenza.
3. The first wave of the pandemic was most lethal
Actually, the initial wave of deaths from the pandemic in the first half of 1918 was relatively low.
It was in the second wave, from October through December of that year, that the highest death rates were observed. A third wave in spring of 1919 was more lethal than the first but less so than the second.
Scientists now believe that the marked increase in deaths in the second wave was caused by conditions that favored the spread of a deadlier strain. People with mild cases stayed home, but those with severe cases were often crowded together in hospitals and camps, increasing transmission of a more lethal form of the virus.
4. The virus killed most people who were infected with it
In fact, the vast majority of the people who contracted the 1918 flu survived. National death rates among the infected generally did not exceed 20 percent.
However, death rates varied among different groups. In the U.S., deaths were particularly high among Native American populations, perhaps due to lower rates of exposure to past strains of influenza. In some cases, entire Native communities were wiped out.
Of course, even a 20 percent death rate vastly exceeds a typical flu, which kills less than one percent of those infected.
5. Therapies of the day had little impact on the disease
No specific anti-viral therapies were available during the 1918 flu. That’s still largely true today, where most medical care for the flu aims to support patients, rather than cure them.
One hypothesis suggests that many flu deaths could actually be attributed to aspirin poisoning. Medical authorities at the time recommended large doses of aspirin of up to 30 grams per day. Today, about four grams would be considered the maximum safe daily dose. Large doses of aspirin can lead to many of the pandemic’s symptoms, including bleeding.
However, death rates seem to have been equally high in some places in the world where aspirin was not so readily available, so the debate continues.
6. The pandemic dominated the day’s news
Public health officials, law enforcement officers and politicians had reasons to underplay the severity of the 1918 flu, which resulted in less coverage in the press. In addition to the fear that full disclosure might embolden enemies during wartime, they wanted to preserve public order and avoid panic.
However, officials did respond. At the height of the pandemic, quarantines were instituted in many cities. Some were forced to restrict essential services, including police and fire.
7. The pandemic changed the course of World War I
It’s unlikely that the flu changed the outcome of World War I, because combatants on both sides of the battlefield were relatively equally affected.
However, there is little doubt that the war profoundly influenced the course of the pandemic. Concentrating millions of troops created ideal circumstances for the development of more aggressive strains of the virus and its spread around the globe
Patients receive care for the Spanish flu at Walter Reed Military Hospital, in Washington, D.C. origins.osu.edu
8. Widespread immunization ended the pandemic
Immunization against the flu as we know it today was not practiced in 1918, and thus played no role in ending the pandemic.
Exposure to prior strains of the flu may have offered some protection. For example, soldiers who had served in the military for years suffered lower rates of death than new recruits.
In addition, the rapidly mutating virus likely evolved over time into less lethal strains. This is predicted by models of natural selection. Because highly lethal strains kill their host rapidly, they cannot spread as easily as less lethal strains.
9. The genes of the virus have never been sequenced
In 2005, researchers announced that they had successfully determined the gene sequence of the 1918 influenza virus. The virus was recovered from the body of a flu victim buried in the permafrost of Alaska, as well as from samples of American soldiers who fell ill at the time.
Two years later, monkeys infected with the virus were found to exhibit the symptoms observed during the pandemic. Studies suggest that the monkeys died when their immune systems overreacted to the virus, a so-called “cytokine storm.” Scientists now believe that a similar immune system overreaction contributed to high death rates among otherwise healthy young adults in 1918.
10. The 1918 pandemic offers few lessons for 2018
Severe influenza epidemics tend to occur every few decades. Experts believe that the next one is a question not of “if” but “when.”
While few living people can recall the great flu pandemic of 1918, we can continue to learn its lessons, which range from the commonsense value of handwashing and immunizations to the potential of anti-viral drugs. Today we know more about how to isolate and handle large numbers of ill and dying patients, and we can prescribe antibiotics, not available in 1918, to combat secondary bacterial infections. Perhaps the best hope lies in improving nutrition, sanitation and standards of living, which render patients better able to resist the infection.
For the foreseeable future, flu epidemics will remain an annual feature of the rhythm of human life. As a society, we can only hope that we have learned the great pandemic’s lessons sufficiently well to quell another such worldwide catastrophe.
Sitges Mayor among others arrested in police investigation of alleged corruption
Aurora Carbonell, the mayor of Sitges and from the ERC party, has been arrested in connection with an alleged corruption investigation, that has also implicated 12 other people, including eight local councillors from the period 2017-2022.
At least four people have been arrested as part of the case, including the local ERC councillor Jaume Monasterio, who was responsible for public works in the last legislature.
The group are being investigated for the crimes of misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and falsification of documents in the awarding of grants and minor contracts in the previous two mandates.
The Spanish National Police and officers of their Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit (UDEF) carried out several searches on Wednesday morning in Sitges, including municipal offices and the homes of two people. The investigation is focused into the process of subsidies granted by the Sitges Town Council to the social entity ‘Taula del Tercer Sector’ (Third Sector Board) and another local co-operative. The police seized documents relating to the entities under investigation.
According to local sources, the police would be investigating, among other elements, if the entity was paid twice for the same service, or received a subsidy and a minor contract, for example.
According to El Pais, police sources have said that the investigation affects the local departments of Beaches and Social Welfare. The police are analysing various specific grants, some of €45,000, €100,000 and €120,000, among others, which may have allegedly gone to the entities under suspicion. According to reports, the total sum under investigation is €600,000.
The starting point of the case stems from a police report detailing the alleged irregularities in May 2022, discovered by the council’s own inspectors.
Carbonell, who was recently re-elected as mayor, has been mayor of Sitges since 2019. The court has ordered for Carbonell and eight councillors to be investigated, in addition to four others who were part of one of the entities and cooperatves also under investigation. The period of alleged corruption is over four years, and also affects the government team prior to Carbonell, according to reports, under the leadership of Miquel Forns (CiU).
The Sitges Town Council has since issued a statement to say that the investigation is connected to ‘external irregularities’ and that it denies any type of wrongdoing.
‘The facts under investigation had already been analysed internally,’ the statement read. ‘The Town Council, once possible external irregularities were detected, commissioned legal professionals to clarify the facts, stopping the subsidies, reviewing the files and starting the process for the return of the subsidies that were not fully justified. The Council has reports that ensure the absence of administrative and even less criminal responsibilities, and which demonstrate the diligence of the Sitges Town Council.’
The statement went on to say that the council ‘is a transparent institution, which has a rigorous code of ethics that ensures the highest standards of integrity’.
It said that it would be making itself ‘available to the authorities in order to show our full collaboration in whatever is necessary’ and ‘reiterates our willingness to cooperate with justice at all times’.
Spain’s far-right Vox seek to make gains in 28 May local and regional elections
Spain’s third largest political group in the national parliament, the far-right Vox party, is looking to make gains in the local and regional elections due to be held across the country on 28 May.
Since it entered a regional government for the first time in Castilla y León last year, Vox has attacked the unions and pushed polarising positions on social issues, including abortion and transgender rights.
It is now poised to spread its influence beyond the sparsely populated region near Madrid, with the party hoping to make gains in the elections at the end of May.
Surveys suggest the main opposition, the right-wing People’s Party (PP), could need the support of Vox to govern in half of the 12 regions casting ballots, just as it did in Castilla y León last year.
Polls also indicate the PP is on track to win a year-end general election but would need Vox to form a working majority and oust socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his coalition government from office.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal [pictured at a recent rally in Chinchón, near Madrid] has called the PP-VOX coalition government in office in Castilla y León since March 2022 a ‘showroom’ and ‘an example of the alternative Spain needs’.
It is Spain’s first government to include a far-right party since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
In Castilla y León, Vox has slashed funding to unions, which the party has vowed to ‘put in their place’ if it comes to power nationally. Trade union UGT was forced to lay off 40% of its staff in Castilla y León last month and scale back programmes to promote workspace safety. Spain’s other main union, the CCOO, is reportedly preparing to follow suit.
Vox has also angered LGBTQ groups by refusing to allow the regional parliament to be lit up in the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the gay rights movement, for Pride festivities as in past years when the PP governed alone.
In addition, the regional vice-president, Vox’s Juan García-Gallardo, has railed against a law passed by Spain’s leftist central government that extends transgender rights.
The 32-year-old lawyer warned earlier this month that women would now be ‘forced to share locker rooms with hairy men at municipal swimming pools’.
Vox’s most contested initiative was a proposal that doctors offer women seeking an abortion a 4D ultrasound scan to try to discourage them from going ahead with the procedure.
The idea was swiftly condemned by Spain’s leftist central government, and Castilla y León’s PP president Alfonso Fernández Mañueco stopped the measure from going ahead.
The issue highlighted the hazards for the PP of joining forces with Vox, which was launched in 2013 and is now the third-largest party in the national parliament.
Spain – Gas falls below 90 euros per MWh for the first time in almost two months
The price of TTF natural gas for delivery next month has fallen below 90 euros on Friday for the first time in almost two months and closes a week marked by the decision of the European Commission to cap gas with a drop of 29, 36%.
According to data from the Bloomberg platform, gas closed this Friday at 83 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh), 8.9% less than the day before and the first time it has lost 90 euros since last October 31.
After months of negotiations, the EU agreed on Monday to set a cap of 180 euros on contracts linked to the Amsterdam TTF index with a price difference of at least 35 euros above the average price of liquefied natural gas in the markets.
EU countries agree on a cap of 180 euros for gas with the support of Germany
In a report this week, the Swiss investment bank Julius Baer indicated that the chances of the mechanism being activated are low and pointed out that the chosen formula was not very effective in avoiding the multiplier effect that gas has on the price of electricity. However, he reiterated what was said in other previous reports: “Energy supply risks are minimal and prices should continue to decline in the future” due to the availability of raw materials from Asia to offset cuts from Russia.
Gas tends to fall during the hot months due to lower demand, but this summer it has reached historic heights as European countries were buying to face the winter with their tanks full and reduce their dependence on Russia. The price fell in September and October due to lower demand once the warehouses were full due to the high temperatures at the beginning of autumn, but in November it picked up again and 66% more expensive.
This article was originally published on Público
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