Institute for Preventive Healthcare and Advocacy
By Kathey Avery, RN, BSN, Co-Chair –
It has occurred to me many times that in a country like America there is a protocol in place for every contingency so we can keep Americans safe.
To work, protocols need to be ready before emergencies such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, chemical warfare, and, yes—pandemics, happen.
As I shared before, throughout history, there have been a number of pandemics of diseases. One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death, which killed an estimated 75 million to 200 million people worldwide in the 14th century. Current pandemics include HIV/AIDS and the 2019 coronavirus disease.
Another notable pandemic that hit the United States was the 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu). One of the key takeaways from 1918 is that the Spanish flu was the worst pandemic in history. According to E. Thomas Ewing, a Professor of History at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, states that by the time three waves of Spanish flu swept across the globe in 1918 and 1919, at least 50 million people were dead, including 675,000 Americans.
But there are key differences between 1918 and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Then, they didn’t even know it was a virus,” Ewing said. “There had been decades of research on microbes, so they understood that it was transferred person to person through respiratory drops, by coughing and sneezing. But viruses weren’t discovered until the 1930s, because they didn’t have powerful enough microscopes.” Testing did not exist.
The Spanish flu targeted the young. But COVID-19, which poses the greatest risk to the elderly, also disproportionately affects people who are chronically ill, or have poor immune systems—which African Americans tend to have. The Latino community is also deeply affected, in large part due to their inability to social distance because of families living and working together closely.
We are gaining more information as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, mutates, and spreads—and it is spreading more rapidly now than previously, because so many people are not following simple pandemic protocols of distancing, hand-washing, and using PPEs.
According to the April 20 edition of Health Day News, “The Spanish flu virus struck swiftly, stoking panic, fear and mistrust as it sickened millions and killed thousands—and now, more than a century later, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic offers lasting lessons for a world in the grip of COVID-19.
“For one thing, we have a tool in place that should have been initiated when our government realized we had a pandemic on our hands. The Influenza Risk Assessment Tool (IRAT) is an evaluation tool conceived by CDC and further developed with assistance from global animal and human health influenza experts. The IRAT is used to assess the potential pandemic risk posed by influenza A viruses that are not currently circulating in people.”
This is the information already known to our government to prepare for an outbreak.
An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak of a new influenza A virus that is very different from current and recently circulating human seasonal influenza A viruses. Pandemics happen when new (novel) influenza A viruses emerge which are able to infect people easily and spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way.
Because the virus is new to humans, very few people will have immunity against the pandemic virus, and a vaccine might not be widely available. The new virus will make a lot of people sick. How sick people get will depend on the characteristics of the virus, whether or not people have any immunity to that virus, and the health and age of the person being infected.
With seasonal flu, for example, certain chronic health conditions are known to make those people more susceptible to serious flu infections. The risk factors associated with seasonal flu can be found at “People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.” Influenza pandemics are uncommon; only occurred during the 20th century.
A pandemic would cause high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss. Everyday life would be disrupted because so many people in so many places become seriously ill at the same time. Impacts could range from school and business closings to the interruption of basic services such as public transportation and food delivery.
Education and outreach are critical to preparing for a pandemic. Understanding what a pandemic is, what needs to be done at all levels to prepare for pandemic influenza, and what could happen during a pandemic helps us make informed decisions both as individuals and as a nation. Should a pandemic occur, the public must be able to depend on its government to provide scientifically sound public health information quickly, openly, and dependably.
Lastly, who do you want to help you if you are having a stroke, heart attack, gunshot wound, cancer? Your neighbor, friends, family members? Do you want validated protocols tried and proven from experts, or made up by nonmedical and unscientific individuals? If the answers aren’t there from a new disease, who do you want researching the cure?
Avery Health – Education and Consulting brings extensive experience and knowledge to help individuals and groups achieve positive health outcomes and implement equity. Kathey Avery, founder and owner, has over 35 years of experience in healthcare and community activism. She is dedicated to raising awareness about, and helping in the prevention of, chronic diseases and preventable cancers through patient and public education and personal accountability. Visit www.averyhec.com.
The mission of the Institute for Preventive Healthcare & Advocacy is to promote optimum health for all residents of Buncombe County and surrounding areas by addressing the social determinants of health and the inequities in access to affordable and preventive healthcare. To learn more, visit www.averyhec.com/ifpha.