Crowsnest Museum Blog

CO-VID 19 and the Spanish Flu

During the CO-VID 19 pandemic, history buffs may have taken notice of some interesting similarities and contrasts between CO-VID, which hit Canada in early 2020, and the Spanish Influenza of 1918-1920. CO-VID has infected approximately 191 million people worldwide and resulted in 4.1 million deaths. The Spanish Flu infected 500 million people (about a third of the world’s population at the time). The death toll of the Spanish Flu is still widely contested, with estimates ranging from 25 to 100 million people. Both viruses were novel, therefore the population had no immunity to them and there was no cure or vaccine when they first appeared. They were also both highly infectious, spreading from person to person through respiratory droplets and aerosols. They are, however, different viruses: CO-VID belonging to the SARS family and the Spanish Influenza belonging to the H1N1 family. The impacts of both viruses were experienced on global scale and both viruses affected daily life in the Crowsnest Pass.

Photo from CBC

The Spanish Flu first arrived in the Crowsnest Pass in 1918. By November, most businesses were ordered closed and the boarding of passenger trains was prohibited. The local health board also banned events, meetings, and services. Gauze masks were made mandatory in public, with fines imposed for noncompliance. Those who were infected were subject to quarantine. Interestingly, schools in Crowsnest Pass were converted to isolation hospitals to prevent the spread of the virus in regular hospitals during the Spanish Flu. This did not occur during the 2020-2021 pandemic, but students were sent home for online learning in March 2020, and schools sat empty until the following September. By the spring of 1919, about a year and a half after its appearance, the flu had left the Crowsnest Pass. Schools were sanitized and reopened for classes.

It is so fascinating to see that many of the same public health measures were employed to prevent the spread of both viruses. However, it was not known until the 1930s that influenza was caused by a virus, not bacteria. Therefore vaccine development at the time was ineffective and the Spanish Flu only subsided when the population surpassed a threshold of immunity, after many unfortunate deaths. A century of research and development in infectious diseases and public health has brought the world an unsurpassed pandemic response, including the development of several effective, safe vaccines. Though there is still some uncertainty about how and when the CO-VID 19 pandemic will end, what is certain is that we have experienced a moment in time for the history books.


Guide to Heritage Cemeteries of Crowsnest Pass

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