The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.
Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. While the 1918 H1N1 virus has been synthesized and evaluated, the properties that made it so devastating are not well understood. With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly.
Out of this crisis grew the profession of chiropractic. Chiropractors were on the front lines with medical practitioners to serve the populations in their communities. A comparative study was completed following the conclusion of the epidemic for patient care in both medical methods and drugless, chiropractic methods in Davenport, Iowa produced the following data:
It is very well understood that biotechnology and pharmaceuticals were very much limited in comparison at this time, therefore it does not translate directly to today’s times. Although, the efficacy of chiropractic and spinal manipulation and the immune-boosting effects of this treatment had been established.
This creates great comparison to today’s pandemic and health crisis. We have no established vaccine or pharmaceutical interventions at this time to eliminate COVID-19. We have limited resources of N95 masks for the public and healthcare providers, limited numbers of ventilators, and a less than perfect understanding of the pathophysiology disease process itself.
Should the public stop following the guidance of primary care and emergency medical professionals? Absolutely not. Should the public resort to only drugless methods as a means to combat COVID-19? Absolutely not. So, what does this mean? Based on the effectiveness of chiropractic in the 1918-1919 epidemic for the H1N1 influenza, chiropractic should be utilized in conjunction with recommended medical care to maximize results and lessen the impact of our current pandemic.