Liza Berger

This pandemic has shifted our perspective like few things have done before. Now, here we are, at the end of July, hitting milestones such as 4 million U.S. cases and other depressing records. 

And as we sit in this otherworldly COVID-19 time warp with no vaccine in sight, we also are now looking ahead to the prospect of the flu season compounding the pandemic.

The logical question comes to mind, can things get any worse?

Well, folks, yes, they can.

Just think about 100 years ago, in 1918, when another little flu took hold and shook the world to its core. The 1918 influenza pandemic remains the most severe to date, killing 50 million worldwide and 675,000 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were several similarities to our current situation. Like COVID-19, there were no treatments for that flu. But unlike now, there were no ventilators, or antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. Similar to our present-day circumstances, control efforts were limited to practices such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene and limitations of social gatherings. Sound familiar?

To make matters worse, there was a medical personnel shortage because many doctors and nurses were serving in World War I. And to put things in perspective, more U.S. soldiers died from the flu than were killed in battle in 1918. Just imagine putting yourself in harm’s way — or sending your son, brother or nephew halfway across the world to fight in a gruesome war only to return home and succumb to the Spanish flu.

So when the pandemic seems overwhelming — whether it be treating and protecting seniors with a shortage of supplies and testing and mounting case numbers in the community, dealing with lost jobs or wages, or even coping with the social and behavioral limitations that this pandemic has wrought — it may help to know one thing: We survived the worst flu in history. We will do so again.

Liza Berger is McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Senior Editor.