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Dr. Beyer compares COVID-19 and the 1918 Spanish Influenza
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Dr. Beyer compares COVID-19 and the 1918 Spanish Influenza


It has been roughly 18 months since the first case of COVID-19 arrived in Missouri but this is not the first time society has dealt with a pandemic.

Dr. Phillip Beyer, D.O. sat down and discussed the comparison of the 1918 Spanish Influenza to the present day COVID-19 pandemic with the community. 

"One hundred and one years ago, the world and the United States of America were faced with the worst pandemic recorded in modern history," Beyer said. "The 1918 Spanish influenza was caused by an H1N1 influenza A virus thought to be of avian (bird) origin whereas today the COVID-19 virus is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 thought to be of mammalian (bat) origin."

Beyer said present day epidemiologists and virologists now believe that the Spanish influenza, as it was called, may have actually begun in the U.S. in Haskell County, Kansas or in France, not in Spain. He said COVID-19's place of origin was most probably at Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China.

"The populations affected by these two major pandemics differ," Beyer said. "The 1918 influenza pandemic killed a disproportionate number of those 25 to 40 years old. COVID-19 mostly affects those over age 65, especially those with comorbidities or other illnesses."

Beyer said the mortality rose to 8-10% in the 25-40 year old range with an overall mortality of 2.4% during the 1918 influenza. He said currently with COVID-19 those in the 18-44 year old range count for 3.9% of the total deaths with an overall COVID-19 mortality of 2.4%.

"The 1918 influenza spread to most of the countries of the world," Beyer said. "It infected about 500 million people, roughly a third of the world's population and resulted in the death of 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans."

Beyer said COVID-19 has spread to most of the world's countries with only a few isolated islands being spared. He said according to the World Health Organization there have been more than 207 million cases recorded with over 4.3 million deaths as of Aug. 16 and it's important to know there are some delays in reports from some African countries.

"The cause of death with the Spanish influenza was secondary bacterial pneumonia," Beyer said. "The cause of death of COVID-19 is overactive immune system leading to end organ failure."

Beyer said in 1917, the first vaccines became available for pneumococcal pneumonia. He said they were tested and successful but only used in a limited research setting.

"Antibiotics and vaccines were not available worldwide at that time," Beyer said. "Today we have multiple vaccines available in the world but much of the populations have not yet been vaccinated either because of vaccines not being available or by choice."

As far as length of time, Beyer said the Spanish influenza lasted from 1918 to 1920 and consisted of four waves. He said scientists at that time could not study if any mutations had occurred.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic originated in December 2019 and is still active today. Since the COVID-19 virus is still spreading, we have had four waves at this point in time, but we don't know how many waves will follow.

"The main reason the waves or spikes in coronavirus cases occur is because of human behavior. Being cautious by physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing lessens the likelihood of future waves."

Beyer also took a moment to answer a few questions regarding COVID-19.

How does coronavirus mutate, change or cause a change in form or nature?

"When viruses infect you, they attach to your cells, get inside them, and make copies of their RNA, which helps them spread," Beyer said. "If there's a copying mistake, the RNA gets changed and thus mutates. Scientists call those changes, mutations."

Beyer said the current delta variant is a mutation of the coronavirus, which is more infective and spreads more readily. 

What is herd immunity and how is it achieved?

"Herd immunity happens when a large part of the population, the herd, is immune to the virus," Beyer said. "This can happen either because these people got vaccinated or had already been infected.

"The herd immunity makes it harder for the virus to spread. So even those who haven't been sick or vaccinated have some protection. The problem with just getting sick to get immunity is that some of those people will get seriously ill and some of those people may die and the virus will continue to mutate."

Beyer said he used John Hopkins Medicine, WebMD, the WHO COVID-19 Dashboard, and Postgraduate Medicine Feb. 9, 2020 as sources for his information. 

"I wanted to thank the employees at the Madison County Health Department on their part in working long hours, 7 days a week, and keeping the community informed through this trying time of the COVID-19 pandemic," Beyer said. 

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS)announced the Parkland area is the latest COVID-19 hotspot in Missouri. DHSS released the advisory on Thursday based on data from Aug. 19 to Sept. 1.

Cases in Iron, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, and Washington counties were elevated with 80, 563, 102, and 190 respectively in the past 14 days, according to the advisory.

The percentage of people fully vaccinated in the area counties are: Iron (30%), St. Francois (33.8%), St. Genevieve (35.2%) and Washington (24.7%) counties.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at

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