The alarming global upsurge in Covid-19 cases has left many scientists in a quandary on how best to describe the current phenomenon.
Some have since termed the worrying trend “the second wave” of coronavirus outbreak, while others have ostensibly observed “reckless behaviour”.
Comparatively, the Covid-19 pandemic has been widely likened to the deadly influenza virus pandemic of 1918, albeit in a different context.
While returning soldiers from the World War 1 fuelled the spread of H1N1 influenza virus, the SARS CoV-2 virus transmission can be exclusively linked to globalisation.
By the fall of 1918, the influenza global pandemic had shown signs of decline. And with the curve flattening, the reduced burden predictably signalled the end of a deadly calamity.
As the world tentatively assumed the disappearance of the lethal disease, a deadly strain of the influenza virus was detected.
Unbeknown to the global population, the mutated influenza virus was to severely exacerbate the already dire situation.
Surprisingly, young adults who had prior resistance to the disease consequently became the high risk population.
Scientists were left puzzled as to how and when the menace will entirely vanish from society. Many explanations were proffered, but, not without contestation.
Accordingly, the term “second wave” significantly gained momentum. Some scientists argued that the disease had relapsed from the initial wave, hence the term “second wave” pandemic.
The “second wave” of the Spanish flu pandemic exhibited what is termed a “W-curve”, which entailed high numbers of deaths among the old and young.
And shockingly, there was an unusual spike in the middle composed of the otherwise healthy young adults in the prime of life – 25 to 35 year olds.
Millions of young and healthy adults horrendously succumbed to the disease.
Chillingly, patients were struck with blistering fevers, nasal haemorrhaging and pneumonia. Patients would eventually “drown in their own-fluid-filled lungs”.
From 1918 to 1920, the “mother of all pandemics” approximately infected more than 500 million people, claiming between 50 and 100 million lives worldwide.
And decades later, scientists were able to explain the fatal phenomenon. The lethal syndrome was diagnosed as “cytokine explosion”.
Cytokine explosion occurs when the body is under attack from a virus and the immune system sends messenger proteins – cytokines – to promote helpful inflammation.
But some strains of flu, and in particular the H1N1 strain, responsible for Spanish flu can cause a deadly immune overreaction in healthy individuals.
Consequently, the body is overloaded with cytokines leading to severe inflammation and the fatal build up of fluids in the lungs.
British military doctors who conducted autopsies on soldiers killed by “the second wave” of the Spanish flu described the grave lung damage as “akin to the effects of chemical warfare”.
Apparently, the term “second wave” has always been used in the history of pandemics, albeit with varied contestations.
A divergent school of thought opined that the disease never disappeared in the first place. But “reckless behaviour” was possibly responsible for the deadly mutated influenza virus.
Of note, the influenza pandemic coincided with the World War 1. The war severely hampered the adoption and enforcement of preventative and protective measures.
As nurses were seconded to the war front, quarantine protocols were increasingly ignored for political expediency.
Systematically, reportage on the global pandemic was muzzled. Spain, a neutral country in the World War 1, is especially credited for reporting on the pandemic, hence the name “Spanish Flu”.
Risk communication strategies were not seriously considered. Global powers consciously pursued political agendas at the expense of the sanctity of human life.
By design, control measures such as social distancing, hand washing with soap and water, or alternatively with an alcohol-based sanitiser and avoiding unnecessary movements were “recklessly” not followed.
In as much as many explanations were offered to unpack the Spanish flu pandemic, “recklessness” was principally associated with high morbidity and mortality rates.
As the world grapples with the impact of Covid-19, also known as coronavirus, more lessons can be learnt from the influenza pandemic.
Equally, the skyrocketing of Covid-19 cases is a cause for concern for all and sundry.
Though various scientific narratives have been widely accepted in explaining the surge in coronavirus cases, “recklessness” must be considered more seriously.
With countries easing lockdown regulations, the general populace ought to critically embrace preventative and protective measures.
In fact, Covid-19 is still and will always be a menace in our society for months, if not years to come.
And the talk of pandemic relapse is seemingly far-fetched as the disease has always been with humanity since November 2019.
Unlike the deadly mutating H1N1 influenza virus, the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutation has not yet been scientifically proven to be lethal.
However, a mutated coronavirus strain has been reportedly observed to increase the rate of transmission.
In this rich vein, proactive action is increasingly becoming very important as the world cautiously prevent a more lethal “second wave” pandemic.
Accordingly, observing the recommended control measures in the letter and spirit of the World Health Organisation guidelines remains top priority.
Forthwith, the Ministry of Health and Child Care should ensure the safety of vulnerable populations by providing critical PPEs and intensification of risk awareness.
On the other hand, the Government should expedite ongoing dialogue with health workers to break the current industrial impasse.
More importantly, the disturbing trend of unscreened returnees evading quarantine protocols ought to be nipped in the bud.
As such, law enforcement agents must be resolute in ensuring the society is free from “reckless biological terrorists”.
As we battle the Covid-19 upsurge, the citizenry must be wary of “the second wave” and desist from “reckless behaviour” that exposes vulnerable populations to coronavirus.
Everisto Mapfidze is a registered general nurse who holds a Bsc Honours in Sociology (UZ). For feedback: [email protected]