Coronavirus pandemic fuels panic-demic reaction

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Joan Dyer-Zinner

Although there is no question about the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak that is ravaging many areas of the world, it needs to be remembered that our country has survived other pandemics in the past, and will surely survive this one.

Anyone who has watched the evening news or read current magazines and newspapers cannot help but feel apprehensive about the disease, which, so far, has no vaccine to curb its spread.

During a routine visit to my physician earlier this month, he advised me not to give in to panic like many of his other patients have. While I believe in his message, it is difficult not to get swept up in the growing panic throughout the country.

What should give us comfort is the fact that our nation has survived other serious health crises, and we should not let panic prevail as we battle this one.

In 2003, fear surfaced when the flu vaccine supply was depleted early in the season, and many individuals faced the winter without their usual flu shot.

In 2009, we once again found ourselves with a short supply of vaccine, and faced an even greater potential danger. At that time, we were informed that the current vaccine would probably have little or no effect on the new, deadly strain, and Tamiflu, the one drug effective as an avian flu treatment, would be scarce.

In our efforts to keep the influenza “bug” away, many of us were washing our hands more often, drinking more citrus juices, consuming more vitamins and minerals, getting more rest and shying away from those with flu symptoms – the same measures we are taking today.

Fortunately, our generation has not been subjected to an illness akin to the Spanish Flu pandemic at the end of World War I, and we hope we do not face a similar plague this year or in the future.

In 1918, just as the “war to end all wars” was drawing to a close, a variety of influenza rampaged across Europe, North America and most areas around the globe. Because it was thought to have originated in Spain, it was dubbed the Spanish Flu.

The pandemic left 20 million to 40 million people dead, which was twice the number as those who died in World War I. Just ponder that figure for a moment – 20 million people would roughly equal the total populations of Florida or New York. If one uses the higher estimate, the figure would total more than the entire population of California or Texas.

More people died in one year of the Spanish Flu pandemic than in four years of the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, from 1347 to 1351.

In addition, the especially lethal virus caused many deaths among people between the ages of 20 and 40, a segment of the population that normally would not succumb to a flulike disease.

At the time of the 1918 flu pandemic, my grandparents who emigrated from Finland, lived in the Upper Peninsula, where he worked in the copper mines and she tended their 13 children. Like all parents, they were worried that their children would contract the disease, but could do little to keep it from infecting their youngsters.

Both of them were deeply religious, and they prayed that God would spare their household from the scourge of the flu. But, without vaccines and antibiotics, they could do little more. In desperation, my grandfather tried some folk medicine to protect his young family. He took camphor and placed it into little bags that he had sewn himself, and then tied one around the neck of each child.

In later years, my mother and her siblings vividly recalled wearing the camphor bags around their necks and smelling the pungent odor throughout the day. Miraculously, none of the family members contracted the Spanish Flu, and they wondered whether it was due to wearing the camphor bags or due to their parents’ prayers.

“Maybe,” my mother speculated, “The strong odor of the camphor kept people away, so they couldn’t pass along any of the germs to us.”

Although my family was grateful that they had been spared when so many others had died in their small town, they never forgot the horror of entire families being wiped out by the disease that plagued the world 102 years ago.

So, wash your hands frequently, get adequate rest, eat a healthy diet and avoid exposure to those with symptoms of the illness.

I’ve heeded all of the recommendations for avoiding the virus from official government sources, but just to be sure, I purchased a vial of camphor oil. No, I don’t believe camphor oil is a magic cure, but each time I smell its distinctive aroma, it reminds me of my grandfather’s dedication to protecting his family by whatever means were available to him.

Thank you, Isaac Viitala, without your resourcefulness, there might not be a me!

Joan Dyer-Zinner is a retired Heritage Newspapers editor.

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