Coronavirus And The Sun: A Lesson From The 1918 Influenza Pandemic 

 March 18, 2020

By  Gabriela K

With each day passing by, the coronavirus is taking its impact by raising anxiety and panic among people.

More than three months ago the first case of this virus was registered, with a rapid spread, it has taken over thousands of people’s lives, pushing cities around the world into lockdown.

Being the number one topic, people are looking up with the most effective ways to prevent growth and stay safe from this virus.

The American president, Donald Trump made a statement that perhaps the situation will be under control by late April, as temperatures will keep rising, but health experts have not made it clear if the warmer climate will have any impact on its spreading.

Since there is not adequate evidence that coronavirus will vanish with the arrival of more sunny days, some scientists like Dr. Richard Hobday who is an independent researcher in the fields of infection control, public health, and building design, relies on the fact that previous respiratory tract infections and pandemics, actually were affected by sunlight.

He further explains that with direct sunlight, more fresh air and wearing protective face masks, there will be an evident decline of the virus’s cases.

With the rise of the Spanish flu, authorities implemented quarantines and discouraged social gatherings, however, results showed that people treated outside had a better recovery rate than people treated indoors.

Death rate and infected patients were averted by exposing themselves in sunlight and fresh air since they acted as natural disinfectants that can put a stop on the spreading germs.

The most affected areas and people were probably soldiers placed in military barracks and troop-ships, making them vulnerable to the virus; they were the root cause of the global spread of influenza.

While staying in Boston’s emergency hospital, a medical officer noticed that the severely ill patients had been staying in badly-ventilated rooms, so he moved them in tents outside the hospital.

The open-air system was considered as the most effective way of dealing with respiratory-ill and tuberculosis patients since the death rate dropped from 40% to 14%. Dr. Hobday explains that outdoor conditions provided good ventilation and very sterile surroundings for the patients.

In addition to that, in the 1960s the Ministry of Defence scientists declared that fresh air is a natural disinfectant and is showing remarkable results when patients are exposed to well-ventilated spaces. By that time, antibiotics were making their debut and almost immediately replaced the open-air system.

Hobday goes on to say:

“Putting infected patients out in the sun may have helped because it inactivates the influenza virus. It also kills bacteria that cause lung and other infections in hospitals.

During the First World War, military surgeons routinely used sunlight to heal infected wounds. They knew it was a disinfectant. What they didn’t know is that one advantage of placing patients outside in the sun is they can synthesize vitamin D in their skin if sunlight is strong enough.

This was not discovered until the 1920s. Low vitamin D levels are now linked to respiratory infections and may increase susceptibility to influenza.

Also, our body’s biological rhythms appear to influence how we resist infections. New research suggests they can alter our inflammatory response to the flu virus. As with vitamin D, at the time of the 1918 pandemic, the important part played by sunlight in synchronizing these rhythms was not known.”

Since we all know, surgical masks were worn a hundred years ago, but they do not offer full face protection as they fail to cover most of the face and to protect from air-borne germs.

That is the main reason why Boston hospital employees invented the five-layer gauze mask, which was more suitable for the face and offered more filtered air to the nose and mouth. They did replace the masks every two hours.

They kept the hygiene at a very high level, and even temporary open-air hospitals were built to fight the spreading of the virus. That eventually led to a significant decrease in virus cases and death rates.

So, Hobday concludes:

“Today, many countries are not prepared for a severe influenza pandemic. Their health services will be overwhelmed if there is one. Vaccines and antiviral drugs might help. Antibiotics may be effective for pneumonia and other complications. But much of the world’s population will not have access to them.

If another 1918 comes, or the Covid-19 crisis gets worse, history suggests it might be prudent to have tents and pre-fabricated wards ready to deal with large numbers of seriously ill cases. Plenty of fresh air and a little sunlight might help too.”


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