When new viral diseases such as SARS and Covid-19, people begin to find new vaccines and treatments. As soon as the current crisis unfolds, the government used quarantine and isolation as public meetings are not encouraged. The health authorities adopted the same approach 100 years ago, when the Spanish flu spread around the world. This writes a Medium.
The results were mixed. But the records about the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, indicate that one method of combating flu — little known today — was effective. Hard-won experience the greatest pandemic in the history of mankind can help in the coming weeks and months.
More than 100 years ago, doctors discovered that patients with a severe form of flu being looked after in the open air, recovered faster than those who were treated in the room. It seems that the combination of fresh air and sunlight prevented the mortality of patients and infections among medical staff.
For this there is a scientific basis. Studies show that outdoor air is a natural disinfectant. Fresh air can kill the flu virus and other harmful germs. Similarly, sunlight is germicidal, and now there is evidence that it can kill the flu virus.
Treatment under the open sky in 1918
During the great pandemic, two of the worst places were the military barracks and warships. Due to overcrowding and bad ventilation, the soldiers and sailors are at high risk of Contracting the flu and other infections which often accompany it. As in the case of the current outbreak Covid-19, the majority of victims of so-called “Spanish flu” did. But they didn’t die from the flu they died from pneumonia and other complications.
When the influenza pandemic reached the Eastern coast of the United States in 1918, the city of Boston has been particularly badly affected. So the guard has created a hospital emergency room. In the worst cases, they took the sailors on the ships in Boston Harbor. Medical hospital employee noticed that the most seriously ill sailors were in poorly ventilated areas.
So he gave them more fresh air, by placing them in the tent. And in good weather they were taken from tents and lay down in the sun. At this time the usual practice was to bring the sick soldiers in the street. Therapy under the open sky, as it was known, was widely used for casualties from the Western front. And this was the treatment is another common and often lethal respiratory infection of the time — tuberculosis.
Patients were disposed to the outside in their beds and breathed fresh air. Or they were in the wards with cross ventilation with open Windows day and night. The treatment under the open sky remained popular until the 1950-ies did not replace him on antibiotics.
Doctors who had direct experience of therapy outdoors at a hospital in Boston were convinced that the regime is effective. This mode was practiced elsewhere. Treatment outdoors under the sun has reduced the mortality rate among hospital patients from 40 to 13 percent. According to General surgeon of the National guard of Massachusetts: “the Effectiveness of treatment in the open air was absolutely proven, and only need to try to reveal its value.”
Fresh air disinfectant
Patients treated in the open air, rarely exposed to infectious germs that are often present in conventional hospital wards. They breathe clean air in a sterile environment. In the 1960-ies the scientists of the Department of defense proved that fresh air is a natural disinfectant.
Something that they called a Factor of the Open Air is much more harmful to airborne bacteria and influenza virus, than the air in the room. They were not able to determine exactly what is the factor of the open air. But they found that it effectively both during the night and day.
Their study also showed that the disinfecting ability of the Factor Open Air can be stored in the buildings — if the ventilation speed is quite high. It is noteworthy that the indicators that they identified are the same as for wards with cross ventilation, high ceilings and large Windows.
But by the time when the scientists made their discoveries, the antibiotic treatment was replaced by treatment in the open air. Since the bactericidal action of fresh air was not taken into account neither in infection control or in the design of the hospital. And all harmful bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
Sunlight and the Spanish flu
Room infected patients in the sun may have helped, because it inactivates the flu virus. The sun also kills bacteria that cause infections in hospitals. During the First world war, military surgeons used the sunlight to heal the infected wounds. They knew it was a disinfectant.
What they did not know, in fact, one of the benefits to put patients in the sun — they can synthesize vitamin D in the skin if sunlight is strong enough. It was not discovered until the 1920-ies. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with respiratory infections and may increase susceptibility to the flu.
In addition, the biological rhythms of our body affect how we are to resist infections. As in the case of vitamin D, during the 1918 pandemic the important role of sunlight in the synchronization of these rhythms was not known.
Facials, coronavirus and influenza
Surgical masks currently in short supply in China and worldwide. They were worn 100 years ago, during the great pandemic, to try to stop the spread of the flu virus. Although surgical masks may provide some protection against infection, they don’t cover their faces. Thus, they don’t filter small particles in the air.
In 1918, everyone who was in the hospital in Boston and had contact with patients, had to wear makeshift face mask. It consisted of five layers of gauze attached to a wire frame which covered the nose and mouth. The frame was shaped to fit the user’s face and prevent the gauze filter on your mouth and nostrils. They were the predecessors of N95 respirators used today in hospitals to protect medical staff from airborne infections.
The hospital staff observe high standards of personal hygiene. No doubt it played a major role in the relatively low rates of morbidity and mortality. The rate at which hospital, and other temporary facilities under the open sky were built to cope with the surge in patients with pneumonia, were another factor.
Today, many countries are not ready for a serious influenza pandemic or other disease. Their medical institutions will be overwhelmed. Vaccines and antiviral drugs can help. Antibiotics can be effective in pneumonia and other complications. But most of the world’s population will have access to them.
If there is another 1918 or crisis Covid-19 worse, history suggests that it would be prudent to build tents and pre-fabricated chamber, ready to cope with a large number of seriously ill patients. Lots of fresh air and a little sunshine can help, too.