Flashback to 1918. The Spanish flu came into Australia via returning World War 1 soldiers. The precise source of first known infection — in Melbourne 1918 — was never discovered. However, once in Australia, the flu rapidly escaped a quarantine system whose efficacy relied on the honesty of ship medical officers and captains to volunteer past or present cases on board and the willingness of returned soldiers to self-report and voluntarily isolate themselves.
Now, flashforward to the returning Ruby Princess cruise ship that docked in Sydney on March 19, following an exemption made by the Australian government allowing them to disembark without testing or health monitoring. In this case, an email from the ship’s master on March 8 had stated there were “no ill passengers or crew on board” even though to date there have been over 160 cases of COVID-19 in returned passengers logged onboard. Also take into account those willingly self-isolating over the last few weeks on crowded beaches and in restaurants and bars.
In 1918 there were too few doctors and nurses to deal with the crisis. Health facilities were overrun. Schools were shut down at various times in various states. Individual states did their own thing as a national argument fell apart. There were shortages of food and essential goods. It was compulsory to wear a mask in the street. Places of entertainment such as theatres, cinemas and dance halls were closed, as were churches (sound familiar?). The Sydney Easter show was called off in 1919, as it has been for 2020.
In Sydney alone 40% of residents caught the Spanish flu and ultimately between 13,000 and 15,000 Australians died; almost two-thirds of deaths were in adults between 25-34. In 1918, the world was a very different place. Doctors knew viruses existed but had never seen one – there were no electron microscopes and the genetic material of viruses had not yet been discovered. Accessibility to information was limited and a lack of internet connection meant that working from home in self-isolation was not an option. Yet, the common link between the experience of 1918 and that of today’s COVID-19 pandemic remains: human psychology.
Humans have evolved to react poorly to uncertainty and unpredictability because both make us feel a perceived lack of control. Add to this mix the fact that COVID-19 makes assessing risk difficult because our objective knowledge of the disease is still evolving. Yet, now, more than ever, common-sense precautionary measures are especially important given the high likelihood of contracting this coronavirus. There are important basic things that we, collectively, can do to take back the power here and control (to some extent) our degree of vulnerability to this illness.
While as a population, we may be anxious, fearful and discouraged, we do have the power to minimise our susceptibility through hygiene measures such as self-isolation, monitoring of temperature, washing hands regularly with soap and avoiding facial contact; note: these measures do NOT include hoarding canned food and toilet paper which only contributes to mass hysteria and a further lack of perceived control (and scientific study proves that a lack of control appears to be the human psyche’s Kryptonite, led by a mixture of miscalibrated emotion and limited knowledge).
U.S. soldiers in Seattle wear masks to prevent influenza during the 1918- 19 'Spanish' Influenza pandemic
And it’s not just hygiene measures that put that health ball back in our court. We also have an opportunity to bolster our immune system through nutrients and herbs that have clinical efficacy in viral control (research they had very limited access to in 1918), so in between your dusting off those old-school board games and trying to flip tortillas into a bowl above your head with a flipper (trust me — it’s a thing), take a few minutes to stock up on these following real essentials:
A recent study by a group of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering researchers from University of Sydney found that compounds from elderberries can directly inhibit viral influenza entry and replication in human cells and can help strengthen a person’s immune response to the virus. In fact, the immunomodulatory effects of Elderberry (S.nigra) have been investigated and appear to show that an extract of the plant would also be likely to stimulate the immune systems of the weak or immune-compromised.
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