The Great Influenza by John M. Barry documents the realities of the 1918 Spanish flu. Its lessons are relevant today during the COVID 19 pandemic.

In his book, 'The Great Influenza', John M. Barry has summarized the events of the previous pandemic: the 1918 Spanish flu. Photo from Commons.Wikimedia.
In his book, The Great Influenza, John M. Barry summarized the events of the previous pandemic: the 1918 Spanish flu.
Photo from Commons.Wikimedia.

The Great Influenza (2004) is a dummies guide to surviving a pandemic. It is a persuasive prophecy of an impending epidemic. And it’s also a handbook for dealing with the novel pathogens.

In his book, John M. Barry has diarized the tragedies of the 1918 Spanish flu. The book is an eye-opener. It contains some big lessons to help us through the COVID 19 pandemic.

Lesson #1 From The Great Influenza: A Strong Leadership Is Essential

Strong leadership can overturn any crisis. During the 1918 Spanish flu, St. Louis’ governors remained united. They adhered to medical advice. They made sure that people self-isolate. This helped save many lives in the city. St. Louis was able to contain the 1918 Spanish flu early, allowing the city to reopen quickly

In contrast, Philadelphia’s mayor went ahead with his colossal war parade. The consequence? Bodies piled up in the city. Morticians could not attend the bodies for several days, because they were sick themselves.

 The Spanish flu death curve shows that deaths peaked in Philadelphia after the Liberty Loans Parade. Photo from Commons.Wikimedia
The Spanish flu death curve shows that deaths peaked in Philadelphia after the Liberty Loans Parade.
Photo from Commons.Wikimedia

Lesson #2 From The Great Influenza: Transparency Helps Curb Viruses

The Great Influenza reveals that American politicians were secretive during the 1918 Spanish flu. Politicians had intended on using secrecy to avoid public panic. But, instead, it led to a devastating loss of life. It also caused a wave of public distrust for the government.

Leaders soon lost authority. Then, an outrageous public response decimated the struggle to contain the virus.

As per The Great Influenza, a lack of transparency during the Spanish Flu contributed to the devastation.
As per The Great Influenza, a lack of transparency during the Spanish Flu contributed to the devastation.
Photo from National Park Service.

Lesson #3 From The Great Influenza: Philanthropy Saved the Day

According to The Great Influenza, Johns Hopkins donated huge amounts during the 1918 Spanish Flu. Gifts like Hopkins’ contributed to the medicinal development in the U.S. during that time.

Grants also enabled medical professionals to provide the best care to those affected. And in the end, it was the humble charities that made disease control effective.