COVID-19 and Spanish flu-18: review of medical and social parallelisms between two global pandemics


COVID-19, Spanish flu, pandemic, influenza


The intrusion of infectious diseases in everyday life forces humans to reassess their attitudes. Indeed, pandemics are able catalyze rapid transitions in scientific knowledge, politics, social behaviors, culture and arts. The current Coronavirus diesease-19 (COVID-19) outbreak has driven an unprecedented interest toward the influenza pandemic of 1918. The issue is whether history can predict our best preventive response and future scenarios. The aim of this review is to highlight the parallelism between the two pandemics. Starting from epidemiology and clinical features, but further focusing on social and cultural issues, it is possible to unreveal great similarities. Their outbreak pattern lead to hypothesize a similar duration and death burden in absence of effective vaccines or innovative treatments for COVID-19. Thus, then as now, preventive medicine represents the first and most effective tool to contain the course of the pandemic; being treatments available only supportive. Contemporary, both pandemics shared the same pattern of narration (e.g. scapegoating) and the same impact on minorities in high-income countries. Furthermore, visual art did not wait to respond with Graffiti art playing in 2020 the role that Expressionism movement had during the Spanish flu and photography capable to document both catastrophic scenarios. Thus, it is possible to find a lot of clinical and social similarities between the two pandemics. Nevertheless, if the Spanish flu was not unforseen, COVID-19 spillover was partially predictable and its global impact will not be overshadowed by a major crisis such as World War I.


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