It’s always possible, of course, that this time it will be the terrible pandemic that is feared.
But I wonder. When I did a search of this blog for “influenza,” for example, I came up with this post from the beginning of 2006, which begins with the words:
An article appeared in this Sunday’s NY Times advising us that our relations with our neighbors may need to change if the much-feared bird flu pandemic ever arrives.
Ah yes, remember the dread bird flu? It did kill a number of people, which is a sad thing, just as the swine flu has already done. But this does not a dangerous pandemic make.
The words “swine flu” ring a bell. In 1976, there was a promised epidemic that never came, and a flawed vaccination that caused more deaths than that year’s flu did. Not a good precedent, although much better than that of the worldwide pandemic of 1918, in which the flu killed approximately fifty million people, most of them young adults in their prime (see my post about the scope of that disaster).
A work of great art that was spawned by the 1918 pandemic is the long short story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” by Katherine Anne Porter. Porter herself was nearly a victim of the disease, as she describes in this work of fiction that is based on her own experiences. One of the now-neglected masterpieces of American literature (and a beautiful love story as well), it explains better than anything I’ve ever read what the horror of those times must have felt like to those who were there.