A demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918. | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division via AP
SALT LAKE CITY — When the new coronavirus began ravaging the world, most people had no idea just how much damage a viral outbreak could do to the world’s health, wealth and social fabric.
But a 2004 book by John M. Barry titled “The Great Influenza” chronicles how the 1918-19 influenza outbreak became the deadliest pandemic in history, and it offers both insight and warnings about how to mitigate future pandemics, which the author concludes are inevitable.
It was the book former President George W. Bush reportedly read that caused him to charge Homeland Security personnel with formulating an ambitious pandemic response plan that included a national stockpile of face masks and ventilators, and a process to fast-track vaccines and other treatments in 2005.
While some of that became a reality, many of those things Barry warned about were not heeded, including allocating resources to vaccine development in U.S. labs and making sure all governments report viral and disease outbreaks accurately to the World Health Organization.
Among the issues he cited was the fact that China’s decision to “initially lie and hide” the 2003 SARS outbreak put the world at risk. He asserted that if WHO, led by the U.S., didn’t find a way to make sure all countries accurately report disease outbreaks, an influenza-like virus would, once again, sicken and kill record numbers of people, despite 100 years of medical advances.
The book provides details into everything from the rise of American medicine to how lingering effects of influenza could have led to President Woodrow Wilson’s abrupt decision to accept the Treaty of Versailles to end World War I when he’d consistently advocated for …read more
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