THE GREAT INFLUENZA
The book the great influenza by john Barry takes us back to arguably one of the greatest medical disasters in human history, the book focuses on the influenza pandemic which took place in the year 1918. The world was at war in the First World War and with everyone preoccupied with happenings in Europe and winning the war the influenza pandemic displayed more of its opportunistic tendencies and struck when the human race was least ready and most distracted by happenings all over the world. In total the influenza pandemic killed over a hundred million people on a global scale, clearly more than most of the deadliest diseases in modern times such as AIDS. John Barry leaves little to imagination in his book as he gives a spectacular vivid description of the influenza pandemic of 1918 and exactly how this pandemic affected the human race. This book is however more than just a descriptive book but takes more of the paradigms of a double edged sword. This s because the book focuses on the historical background of the time when the pandemic struck. The book clearly outlines the human activities that more or less handed the human race to the influenza on a silver platter. “There was a war on, a war we had to win” (Barry, p.337). An element of focus in the book is the political happenings back at the time not only in the United States of America but also all over the world and how politicians playing politics paved the way for perhaps the greatest pandemic in human history to massacre millions of people. The book also takes an evaluator look at the available medical installations and technological proficiencies and how the influenza pandemic has affected medicine all over the world.
This disaster took place in the year 1918 during the First World War. The virus originated in Kansas despite it being known as the Spanish flu. Back at the time military men were kept in camps in their large numbers. Interaction among these military men was at an all-time high as a single camp could contain thousands or even hundreds of thousands of soldiers. This setting more or less provided the perfect breeding ground for the influenza. The physical setting also ensured that the influenza could easily spread from one person to another and at a very fast rate. This perhaps explains why the virus originated in camp Funston of Haskell County in Kansas. This was the second largest military encampment in the country back in 1918. This setting alone shows that the influenza virus had access to a very large number of people right from the onset and that the physical and human environment back at the time were very conducive for the spread of the virus. Movement of soldiers to Europe to fight in the war did little as far as confinement of the virus was concerned. The war thus put the virus on a global paradigm with unlimited movement and access to more than half of the world’s population. The virus thus found its way from the United States of America to Europe and eventually to other parts of the world that acted as fronts in the First World War.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 cannot be entirely blamed on nature. Nature did lead to the inception of the virus but the activities of human beings led to the world widespread of the virus and thee losses of human lives that ensued. 1918 being a time of war the political authorities that be back then thought that maintaining the morale of the soldiers at war was perhaps the most important human endeavor back at the time. This concept led to a media blackout on the influenza. In the name of maintaining military morale, the media deliberately turned a blind eye to the influenza virus that was killing millions of people in the meantime. “Nothing was to be done to interfere with the morale of the community” (Barry, p.337). Only Spain which remained neutral in the war openly and freely gave details on the virus thus giving rise to the name the Spanish flu. “The Spanish flu is nothing more than old fashioned grippe” (Barry, p.335). The media did not only withhold information from the public on the flu but it also gave misinformation which greatly fuelled the spread of the influenza virus thus leading to its pandemic status. This is because the media gave information to the effect that the virus could not be spread through interaction with people or contact with certain objects. This misinformation led to massive public ignorance on the ways in which the virus could spread from one person to another. With this new ignorance and misinformation the public did not take special precautions as far preemptory measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus are concerned. It can therefore be argued that politics and mass misinformation by the media greatly aided the spread of the influenza virus back in 1918 which further led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people on a global scale. “People could not trust what they read” (Barry, p.335).
On a personal opinion the disaster could happen again and replicate the events of the year 1918. Despite the massive improvements as far as technology is concerned in the medical field the influenza pandemic could just as easily be replicated. This is because despite the vast steps made in the medical field the same political strategies that were in play in the year 1918 are still being employed by the powers that be to this very day. We live in an age where politicians withhold information from the public at an all-time rate and the media has been relegated to a brainwashing instrument on a large scale. It can thus be argued that if a similar pandemic was to occur in present times the same underhanded tactics employed by the politicians in 1918 would be employed today and the media would be used as the main source of misinformation to the general public. This will be argued as in the interest of preventing mass panic among the general public and maintaining law and order in the streets but the truth is this would be the creation of more or less thee perfect breeding ground for the virus and by all means the perfect setting for a similar human massacre. Based on the fact that political tactics and trends have remained the same over millennia it can be argued that a similar pandemic could occur in modern times and have devastating effects similar to those experienced during the influenza pandemic of the year 1918.
The disease did indeed have broader effects than just the immediate effects. Perhaps the most outstanding effect of the pandemic is that it taught the human race just how3 fragile human life is and how easy it is to eliminate a large portion of the global population inmore or less a single swing. The disease brought to life the concept of just how small thee world is and how an isolated medical disaster in a single and remote part of the world could quickly shake the very foundations of the human race. The virus thus brought about n element ofcooperation throughout the world in the medical field with special attention being paid to every emerging medical phenomenon with it being paid the necessary attention. The disease also led to the setting up of legislation that is aimed at preventing a similar occurrence in future. This explains why one has to be screened before one can be given a passport to fly to certain countries. This is not discrimination or victimization but rather preventory terms aimed at averting a medical crisis which would occur if such measures were entirely ignored. The concept of quarantine also came to life after this disaster. This concept has enabled the containment of diseases to their origin areas thus curbing their spread to various parts of the world. With such diseases isolated in terms of th3eir access to human victims the best medical minds get to work and quickly come up with solutions to the diseases thus ensuring that human casualties are kept at a minimum. Clearly the lessons learned from the influenza pandemic of 1918 are in application all over the world with the medical field ever on high alert looking out for even the slightest signs of a similar occurrence. The disease thus put the human race on high alert and helped to raise the bar in the medical field.
Barry, John M.. The great influenza: the epic story of the deadliest plague in history. New York: Viking, 2004. Print.
Beveridge, W. I. B.. Influenza: the last great plague : an unfinished story of discovery. New York: Prodist, 2003. Print.
Honigsbaum, Mark. A history of the great influenza pandemics: death, panic and hysteria, 1830-1920. New York: United Nations University Press, 2005. Print.