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How Lessons From Previous Pandemics Can Help Society Fight COVID-19

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It only took a few months for COVID-19 to spread across the globe and to impact millions of lives. The current coronavirus pandemic is intimidating, which is a necessary emotion to make people treat the disease seriously. Despite all the gloom, it’s not the first time that a pandemic swept through the globe. By studying past pandemics, people can glean valuable lessons that can make society more resilient towards the threat of COVID-19.

Social Distancing During The Spanish Flu

The 1918 Spanish flu first emerged in midwest America. However, people weren’t able to observe the spread of the virus at first, as everyone was preoccupied with World War I. Soldiers unwittingly spread the disease across the world, leading to the Spanish flu pandemic. For many communities in the US, multiple waves of the disease hit their areas. Around half a billion people got sick, with up to 100 million dying, by the time the pandemic subsided in 1920.

Government units enacted regulations to slow down the virus, with varying results. Initially, many cities implemented information campaigns to educate people about the risk of transmission, as the Spanish flu virus was contagious. In many areas, authorities shifted to staggered work times and store hours to reduce crowds.

As the situation became dire, officials ordered the closing of most businesses and prohibited non-essential social gatherings. Face masks became mandatory in some cities. Anyone who had symptoms was put under quarantine to avoid further disease transmission.

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Experts collectively refer to these measures are social distancing efforts. They are particularly necessary for airborne viruses. These viruses suspend themselves in droplets that people emit whenever they cough, sneeze or speak. These droplets can travel several meters and cause infection when another person breathes them. This method of transmission is particularly efficient, so ways that keep transmission rates down are critical.

Social distancing makes it so that each infected person encounters fewer people, leading to lower rates of transmission. Eventually, there will be so few new cases that active cases will start to decline, ultimately leading to the end of the outbreak.

Cities that implemented more aggressive social distancing efforts saw fewer deaths and fewer cases. Those that did not prescribe adequate social distancing were more likely to have overwhelmed their health systems, as the number of instances outstripped the capacity of healthcare facilities. These areas eventually saw higher death rates.

AIDS And Discrimination

AIDS is a slow but dangerous disease where the body’s immune system slowly shuts down. It’s caused by HIV, a virus that spreads through blood and sexual contact. By the late 1970s, the illness was spreading among many LGBTQ populations, particularly gay men.

The LGBTQ civil rights movement was in full swing at the time. People with anti-LGBTQ sentiments used the opportunity to blame the AIDS epidemic on gay communities. There used to be little information about the virus at this point, so many LGBTQ individuals became targets of discrimination.

It took several years for the government to take serious action against AIDS. LGBTQ activists were able to raise more attention to the AIDS epidemic, spurring people into action. 

Discrimination can slow down efforts against any pandemic. According to Valerie Earnshaw, Ph.D., “stigmatizing anyone during a pandemic poses a threat to everyone.” Society needs to be united To defeat COVID-19. Everyone must be protected, and everyone should be able to help out.

The Global Effort Against Smallpox

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Smallpox was a dangerous illness found since antiquity. Around 30% who contracted the disease died, and many survivors got disfiguring scars.

Due to its infectivity, smallpox remained a significant health problem until vaccination was adopted widely during the 19th century. By 1959, the World Health Organization declared a global plan to eradicate the disease. After early failures, authorities around the world ran massive vaccination programs. They also set up robust surveillance systems to monitor cases.

The global cooperation paid off in 1980 when experts declared the successful eradication of smallpox.

Worldwide cooperation is crucial for pandemics, including the current one caused by COVID-19. While the search continues for a vaccine or a cure, the world needs to band together to survive.

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Society can learn many lessons from our experiences with pandemics. Only by reflecting on our past experiences can we find better ways to solve the present and change the future.

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