Person placing slide under microscope

National Pathology Week

In light of National Pathology Week occurring November 2nd – 8th, with COVID-19 still hot on our heels, now would be an excellent time to look back on previous scientific breakthroughs and how we overcame past pandemics.

1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

Firstly, let’s take a look back at the 1918 flu pandemic, commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu.

This pandemic was no joke; it had an infection total of approximately 500 million, this was around ⅓ of the world’s population at the time, in comparison to the 44 million cases of COVID-19, which hardly comes close to the global population of 7.8 billion.

In 1918, there was a lack of antiviral drugs and medication to help the recovery of the flu. With inadequate public hygiene and a lack of antibiotics to treat the secondary effect of bacterial infections, the death rate was inflated massively.

Makeshift hospital room lined with rows of patients during 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

Social Distancing is not a new measure

Similarly, with COVID-19, the 1918 pandemic also had social distancing measures introduced alongside the recommendation of face masks. This is not something that is new to us, and it really shows the importance of abiding by these regulations. Whilst the 1918 pandemic is widely regarded as one of the most disastrous pandemics the human population has ever faced; we took it as a learning experience. Social Distancing is important, and it works. Wearing a face mask is just as important, and it works. This is backed up by evidence; there were quarantines all over the world. It is important that we follow our government’s regulations to ensure our safety.

Close-up of green pathogen

Bubonic plague (Black death)

Looking back, it isn’t all doom and gloom; we need to realise that our scientific breakthroughs and progression with medication have a massive effect on how we deal with these viral outbreaks. Take the Black Death, for example, in 1343-1353, we weren’t nearly as educated or prepared to deal with these pandemics. The disease commonly travelled on fleas that lived on rats that would be living on ships; when this reached land, the disease spread extremely quickly. At the time, the total death toll is estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population. The huge death toll took almost 200 hundred years for the population to recover to what it was in 1300.

Public hygiene was nowhere near as prevalent as it is now, and it is reflected in the death tolls of past pandemics. The Bubonic plague reappeared in the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666, which had a death toll of 100,000 in just the one year it spread in the UK, with just 2 months left before COVID-19 has been circulation for a full year, I think it’s important to realise that although many have lost family members to the disease, the death toll is currently sitting at 44,000 in the UK. 

Masked person looking into microscope


National Pathology Week looks to highlight the importance of pathologists and the efforts taken to keep the public safe from dangerous pandemics, Coronavirus is a dangerous disease for certain, and we’re not sure how long this disease will circulate in our populations. But with everything we’ve been through as a population and the diseases we’ve survived in the past, it is important to remember that we can get through this. 

Our Government and Health officials know what they’re doing, and are working tirelessly to halt the spread of this disease.

That is why it is vital that we all do our part and follow the regulations they’ve set. So go out there, put a mask on and keep those two meters apart, we’ve done it before, we can do it again. 

If you or anyone you know may be suffering symptoms of COVID-19, please self-isolate and visit NHS 111 to organise a COVID Test.

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