Ireland’s history of pandemics

Ireland has a long history of suffering the effects of pandemics—some of them this century.

An article in the Irish Central drew comparisons to the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009/10 and referred to the Spanish Flu that swept through the country post the First World War.

Swine Flu affected more than 1.4 billion people world-wide and was particularly bad in Ireland as more than 3,000 people in the country contracted the virus (also known as H1N1) and killed 20 people. Across Europe, more than 7,500 people died.

Swine flu deaths

Death rates for swine flu were lower than the coronavirus but some 500,000 people died from it world-wide. And yet, the pandemic played out more or less unnoticed by most people as they went about their normal lives.

One reason for this might be because social media at the time was not used nearly as profligately as it is now, and that newspapers were not as present online or sending out regular notifications on diagnosed cases or deaths.

A vaccine for swine flu was eventually discovered.

Spanish flu ‘deadly’

’Spanish flu was the deadliest outbreak of flu ever recorded in human history, as it infected between 50 million and 100 million world-wide. It killed indiscriminately, as deadly among young people as the old.

Experts are unsure of where Spanish flu came from, but the strain of influenza was incorrectly labelled because many countries in Europe imposed war-time censorship on news reporting of the virus, so it was underreported in certain countries. Spain, which had been neutral during the war, reported it more widely including the news that it made King Alfonso VIII gravely ill.

Soldiers are thought to have passed the illness on to others while in first aid stations in Europe. Critically ill patients were then sent from the front lines in packed railway carts, creating an ideal environment for disease to spread.

Rapid spread

When the war ended, returning soldiers brought Spanish flu with them to their own countries where it spread rapidly.

There were two waves of it in Ireland—one brought back from soldiers returning from the USS Dixie in May 1918 and then later in the autumn of that year. More than 80,000 Irish people were infected and more than 23,000 people died.

Its spread and devastation were also helped by factors such the soldiers who contracted the disease being worn out while a lack of food and medicine was a problem for the general population. Hygiene and the understanding of the way disease and infection spreads was not as widely understood either and overcrowding in slums and tenants did not help.

Public health measures in Ireland have been extended until Tuesday 5 May. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said the measures have been extended to save lives.


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