Column: Modern flu jabs will stop another pandemic

Our columnist Rev Dr John Smith says the flu jab is as important today as it was a century ago during the great flu pandemic...

Thursday, 10th January 2019, 1:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 2:13 pm

I do not wish to put ‘the fear of death’ into you, in fact my intention is the opposite.

1918 and the end of the First World War is still on my mind and being a former medic, 1918 reminds me of the flu epidemic that struck the world, continuing into 1919.

Rev Dr John Smith

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It was one of the worst medical disasters of the 20th century. Starting in Spain, before the war came to an end, where over eight million died.

Governments had a news blackout in case it lowered morale as it rapidly spread around the world.

Most estimates say that between 20 and 40 million died; some say it might have been as high as 100 million.

In the UK it was thought that it was spread by soldiers returning from the war who were infected in the cramped, damp, intolerable conditions of the trenches.

And spread it did, infected soldiers arriving on trains brought it to the railway stations, from there to the cities and to towns, villages and countryside.

Anyone could catch it, many did and many died rapidly from it - ‘well at breakfast, dead at teatime’.

If you are pessimistic by nature you may well fear that this could happen again.

Yes it could but there are many ‘buts’.

The buts will come in a minute after we have learnt that life is fragile, and because it is we should seize the moment and live life to its full, express our thankfulness to others, care about our neighbour and express our regret when we do wrong.

Now for the buts.

Over 100 years ago the world was tired with war and the people of the world were tired out and vulnerable.

Many diets were poor and resistance to disease low.

One hundred years ago there were no antibiotics and secondary infection led to rapid deterioration.

Now things are very different.

Here in the UK our baseline health is so much better, despite our tendency to eat and drink too much and be overweight, we have the ability to resist infection.

It is the poor and undernourished who are more vulnerable, they always are, and should another epidemic occur it will be the poor who suffer most- it is poverty that kills not the flu.

And we have the flu jab and antibiotics.

That is why it is so different in 2019.

That is why we have less to fear from a major flu epidemic.

The ‘flu jab’ will protect most of us and make spread difficult, and our improved health makes recovery the likeliest of options.

It is good news.

1914 - 1918 “was the war to end all wars”, but it wasn’t.

Between then and now, there have been so many advances in medicine and the way we live that the war against major epidemics has been won in so many ways.