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Historically Speaking COVID 19 – THIS TOO WILL PASS

By Patricia Harris, President, DC Historical Society


   First, let me say that I do not want to diminish the seriousness of this pandemic in any way.  However, we do need to put it into perspective.   Remember that as a people we have stood strong many times in the past through other pandemics.  We have come out of them stronger and wiser than we were before.  Our country has always found the necessary medicines and vaccines to resolve each of them.  Stay strong and keep the faith.  This too really will pass.

   Although this is the first global pandemic that any of us have ever experi  enced, it is not the first pandemic that Mountaineers and Americans have ever experienced.  Let’s have a look at some of major ones and how we confronted them.

   First on our list is the THIRD CHOLERA PANDEMIC between 1852–1860 which killed a million people worldwide.  The third outbreak of Cholera during the 19th century was considered by most experts to be the deadliest.

   Like the first and second Cholera Pandemics, the Third Cholera Pandemic originated in India and spread from the Ganges River Delta.  Then, it spread through Asia, Europe, North America and Africa.  The 3rd Cholera Pandemic killed over a million people worldwide.  British physician, John Snow, tracked cases of cholera and eventually succeeded in identifying contaminated water as the means of transmission for the disease while working in a poor area of London, England.  Unfortunately, the same year as his discovery (1854) went down as the worst year of the pandemic.  The people of Great Britain lost 23,000 of their friends and neighbors.  

   Many of Doddridge County’s citizens fell victim to the Cholera during this time and lost their lives.  A walk through almost any of our local cemeteries will reveal names like Shinn, Davis, Doak, Allen, Robinson, Cooper and so many others.  Just look for the death dates on the stones and you’ll find in most cases there were multiple family members there in a row.

   Perhaps you can remember your grandparents telling stories about the death of loved ones during the FLU PANDEMIC of 1889-1890.   That pandemic saw the death of a million people worldwide.   The “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu” was a strain that was thought to be an outbreak of the Influenza A virus subtype H2N2, though recent discoveries have instead found the cause to be the Influenza A virus subtype H3N8. The first cases were observed in May 1889 in three separate and distant locations, Bukhara in Central Asia, Athabasca in northwestern Canada, and Greenland. Because the 19th century saw an increase in the rate of population growth, the flu quickly spread worldwide. 

   In 1910-1911, the CHOLERA PANDEMIC came to Doddridge County yet again.  It had a death toll of more than 800,000 worldwide.  This sixth Cholera pandemic, just like the five that preceded it, originated in India, then invaded the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, the United States, and Russia. The Sixth Cholera Pandemic was America’s final outbreak of Cholera. American health authorities, having learned from the past, quickly sought to isolate the infected, and in the end only 11 deaths occurred in the U.S. 

   The FLU PANDEMIC of 1918, also known as the Spanish Flu, was the first deadliest pandemic since the Black Plague.  It was reported that from January 1918 -1920, an estimated 500 million people were infected with the virus worldwide.

   In the United States, it was reported that as many as 30% of the American population.  It killed more than 500,000 Americans.  It is considered the second deadliest event in American History.  Only the American Civil War killed more.

   It hit WV especially hard when it made its way to our area in late September and infected 71,079 WV citizens.  The 1st cases showed up in the Eastern Panhandle and spread southward to encompass the entire state including Doddridge County.  Graves tore up the soil in nearly every community and private cemetery in the state and Doddridge County was no exception.  Two thousand eight hundred and eighteen (2,818) of our WV citizens lost the battle with Spanish Flu and were reported to have died.  

    During the height of the epidemic in WV, entire communities were with  out medical aid.  There were severe shortages of doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and caskets.  Often doctors and nurses succumbed to the disease.  Most victims were cared for at home as there were few hospitals.  

   This flu pandemic caused the cancellation of the WVU’s football game with Marietta game.  WVU was required to quarantine its 45-member football squad.  WV’s Committee on Education abruptly ordered students to leave the WVU campus and not return until the virus was contained.  

   The City of Morgantown ordered the closing of all theaters, churches,  and other public places of gathering when it had reached more than 200 flu cases.  

   On Nov. 9, 1918, two days before Armistice Day, WV officially canceled its football season.  The reason given was not the influenza outbreak, but rather the enormous time constraints imposed on their players.    This pandemic took the lives of 650,000 U.S.A. lives.  

   In Huntington’s Oct. 2, 1918 newspapers, the public learned that three of its young soldiers who were stationed elsewhere had succumbed to the terrible influenza virus being dubbed “the Spanish Flu.”

The pandemic left WV and most of the United States as quickly and mysteriously as it arrived.  It was reported as having subsided in the Mountain State by the end of October 1918.  Unfortunately, it left a deadly path of destruction.  

   The Spanish Flu’s unusual characteristic was the fact that it seemed to infect a disproportionate number of our young healthy population instead of the normal pattern which infected the very young and the very old.  Nearly half of those who died from Spanish Flu were between the ages of 20 and 40 years old.  

    Still, the point is not to scare readers into a panic.  Rather, it is to help us realize that we survived the Spanish Flu and were stronger than before.    What we learned prepared us to be ready should this happen again.  Todays modern flu vaccines have usually curtailed these types of pandemics.    Unfortunately, COVID 19 is a new virus that lacks a vaccine yet.  The CDC is working around the clock to create this vaccine.  They will create it soon and this will be in our rearview mirror very soon.

   The DIPHTHERIA EPIDEMIC first hit our country between 1921-1925.    By 1921 the epidemic peaked with 206,000 cases.  Diphtheria is a highly infectious respiratory disease that colonizes a person’s nose and throat.  It causes swelling of the mucous membranes, including in your throat, that can obstruct breathing and swallowing.  Sometimes the bacterial toxin can enter the bloodstream and cause fatal heart and nerve damage.  

   By the mid-1920s, researchers licensed a vaccine against the bacterial disease.  Infection rates plummeted in the United States.  Today more than 80% of children in the United States are vaccinated.  Those who contract the disease are treated with antibiotics.  

   Again, with American know how and the grace of God, we beat this Epidemic as well.  GO AMERICA!

   Now we come to that horrible and unforgiving pandemic that paralyzed  America in 1952 called POLIO.  Polio is a viral disease that affects the nervous system, causing paralysis. It spreads through direct contact with people who have the infection. The first major polio epidemic in the United States occurred in 1916 and reached its peak in 1952. Tens of thousands of Americans were infected with the disease in the first half of the 20th century.  Of the 57,628 reported cases, there were 3,145 deaths.

   Three years later, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine.  By 1962, the av

erage number of cases dropped to 910.  According to the CDC, the United States has been polio-free since 1979.  Getting vaccinated is very important before traveling.  There is no cure for Polio.  Treatment involves increasing comfort levels and preventing complications.  America did it again, wiping out the monster disease, Polio.

   On April 12, 2015, America celebrated the 60th anniversary of the vaccine developed by Jonas Salk that prevented the disease and eventually led to its remarkable decline.  The introduction of that vaccine in 1955 was one of the biggest medical advances in our history.  AMERICA DID IT!  GO AMERICA!

   Did you ever hear of the ASIAN FLU?  The Asian Flu Pandemic H2N2 was first identified in China, but it didn’t stay there.  It spread to the rest of Asia, the Middle East and Europe, and the Americas.  by Maurice Hilleman.  He obtained a sample from an American soldier and soon determined that most people did not have an antibody protection from the new influenza virus. Hilleman jump-started vaccine production by sending virus samples to manufacturers and urging them to develop the vaccine in four months.  Most Health officials widely credited that vaccine with saving many lives.

   However, due to advances in scientific technology, the virus was quickly identified, and a vaccine was available by August of 1957.  The Asian Flu hit young people and children especially hard.  The elderly suffered the highest death rates from the disease. Influenza peaked in the United States between September and December with a second wave emerging in January and February.  The Asian Flu killed 1 to 2 million deaths worldwide and some 70,000 deaths in the United States during the 1957-58 season.  

   In July and August, outbreaks of the new strain erupted.  The clinicians and scientists at this meeting were grappling with many unknowns at the time, and their relief over the disease’s downward trend at the time is palpable, if cautious. Issues ranging from clinical recognition of the disease to vaccine efficacy are discussed. Dr. Harry M. Rose perhaps summarizes it best, declaring that “one of the astonishing things indeed is that the epidemic proportions were not even larger,” while later advising to “hope and pray” that the number of incurable cases does not grow. Although there is much advice given on clinical treatment and immunization guidelines, no one sounds snug or sure-footed —these are professionals who clearly have experienced a few rough weeks.

   There is, however, a puzzling postscript to the expectations at the November meeting.  Between January and April 1958, the other usual seasonal time for influenza, there was (despite Dr. Greenberg’s predictions here) a nationwide surge in flu-related deaths that almost equaled the autumn outbreak. However, during the January to April period, no community-wide epidemics were reported; industrial absenteeism was normal; and no schools closed.  A reasonable explanation for this epidemiological curiosity has never been provided². It is estimated that the pandemic of 1957-58 eventually killed at least 1 million people worldwide.

   In another surprising turn of events, in 2004 and 2005 an error resulted in the worldwide distribution of test kits of the 1957 H2N2 virus, now officially classified by the CDC as Biosafety Level 3, or “potentially lethal.”   It is believed all samples have been destroyed.

   That brings us to 1968.  Do you remember the 1968 “HONG KONG FLU” that killed over one million people?  This category 2 Influenza A pandemic was caused by the H3N2 strain of the Influenza A virus, a genetic offshoot of the H2N2 subtype. The first case was reported on July 13, 1968 in Hong Kong.  In 17 days, outbreaks of the virus were reported in Singapore and Vietnam, and within three months had spread to Australia, Europe, India and the Philippines, and the United States.  

   Have you heard of HIV/AIDS?  Of course, you have.  The HIV/AIDS pandemic at its peak from 2005-2012 killed more than 36 million people worldwide.  It was first identified in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, HIV/AIDS (HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS) has truly proven itself to be a global pandemic, killing more than 36 million people since 1981.

   As of March 5, 2020, there are 140 known cases of HIV/AIDS in WV.  By county, there are 80 cases in Cabell, 22 cases in Kanawha, 5 cases in each of the following counties:  Monongalia, Ohio, Wayne, Berkeley, Clay, Hardy, Harrison, Jefferson, Logan, Marion, Mercer, Putnam, Raleigh, Randolph, Wood, Wyoming.  Doddridge has 5 known cases of HIV/AIDS as well.

    Currently there are between 31 and 35 million people living with HIV, the vast majority of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa.  About 21 million people or 5% of that population is infected.  As awareness grew, new treatments were and continue to be developed that make HIV far more manageable.  Today, many of those who are infected with HIV/AIDS to lead productive lives. 

   Numerous other pandemics, epidemics and/or outbreaks (Scarlet Fever, Small Pox, Measles, and Ebola) have hammered our people in years past and while it is so important, even imperative, to take this pandemic very seriously and expressly follow the CDC guidelines as well as your local governments, it is also important not to give in to panic and hysteria.    Look out for your older neighbors.  Don’t risk taking the COVID 19 virus home to your parents and grandparents or to your community.  

   Travel only when necessary.  

God Bless and Stay Well.

Patricia Richards Harris