Tuesday, May 5, 2020
How much longer, I’ve been asking myself. How long is a pandemic supposed to last? So I did some research. And I begin to think that I may need to be cautious for longer than I had hoped.
The COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. We were in Portugal, where public life seemed to be normal except for two things: The major tourists sites were empty. And signs about coronavirus and handwashing were beginning to appear in hotels and restaurants. Counting from March 11, this is Day 56. I want to travel and see my family and hug people again. How long is a viral pandemic anyway?
Viral research, as I like to say, was a twentieth-century project. Viruses were here all the time, but we didn’t have the accurate filters and powerful centrifuges that were required to study them until the 1930s. Since then, we’ve added other important tools such as electron microscopes and genetic sequencing. We can study the great plagues of history in terms of origin, spread, and human behavior, but only in the twentieth century have we been able to identify, research, and differentiate viruses that cause disease in humans with any accuracy.
COVID-19 is caused by a type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are different from influenza viruses. They have different characteristics. But this is the first coronavirus pandemic, so I have to use influenza pandemics for comparison.
There have been four influenza pandemics in the twentieth century: 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009, all caused by Influenza A viruses. (Defined on CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/types.htm) The information below is from the CDC website, given at the end of this piece.
- 1918: Called “Spanish Flu.” Caused by an H1N1 virus. At least 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 in the United States. It hit in 3 waves.
- 1957-58: Called “Asian Flu.” A new H2N2 virus caused a pandemic that caused 1.1 million deaths worldwide and 116,000 in the U.S. It came in two waves and was controlled via a vaccine.
- 1968 to 1969-79: Called “Hong Kong Flu.” A new H3N2 influenza virus starts this pandemic during the Vietnam War. 1 million deaths worldwide, 100,000 in the U.S. It also hit in two waves.
- 2009-10: Called “Swine Flu.” WHO declared the new H1N1 outbreak a pandemic on June 11, 2009. Vaccinations started in October. There were 12,469 deaths in the U.S. WHO declared the pandemic over on August 10, 2010. It continues as a seasonal virus.
I am impressed with the persistence of pandemic viruses in our century. How they each affect specific age groups. How they come in waves (due to mutations? seasonal variation? human behavior?) How some are controlled sooner than others, but so far they have all been Influenza A viruses, so we have learned a lot about those. But COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus. so we have a steeper learning curve this time.
I think I need to give this some time. It will be awhile before I can start hugging everybody again.
Today’s Notable Headlines
“White House Coronavirus Task Force to Wind Down,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/
“Walmart Location Shuts Down After 81 Empoyees Test Positive for Coronavirus,” Radio.com, https://www.radio.com/news/81-walmart-employees-test-positive-for-coronavirus?utm_source=RDC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=RDC%20NEWS&utm_content=RDC%20Coronavirus%205.5.20
“In the City of the Taj Mahal, coronavirus resurgence carries warning signs,” Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-india-agra-insight/in-the-city-of-the-taj-mahal-coronavirus-resurgence-carries-warning-signs-idUSKBN22G08I
“Disney’s Shanghai Theme Park to Reopen May 11 with Precautions; What about U.S. theme parks?” USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/2020/05/05/coronavirus-disney-world-disneyland-remain-shut-despite-states-reopening/5170320002/
Sources of Information:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html
“Coronavirus explained: Symptoms, lockdowns and all your COVID-19 questions answered,” cnet, Jackson Ryan, April 17,2020. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/coronavirus-explained-symptoms-lockdowns-and-all-your-covid-19-questions-answered/
Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu, Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-disease-2019-vs-the-flu
“Ultrafiltration Studies with Yellow Fever Virus,” Joannes H. Bauer and Thomas P. Hughes, from the Laboratories of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation, New York City, June 12, 1934.
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.
You are on History’s Edge.