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Famous victims of a pandemic, exactly 100 years ago

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DISEASE does not discriminate, and takes lives great or small. During this coronavirus pandemic, when you can: stay at home. Otherwise, maintain distance in public, avoid close contact with people, and take all necessary sanitary precautions.

Earlier this week, the heir to the British throne, Charles, Prince of Wales, tested positive for COVID-19. He has placed himself in isolation in Scotland, according to a report from CNN. Another royal, Prince Albert II of Monaco, has also tested positive for the virus. A statement from the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, dated March 19 (translated from the French) said, “His Serene Highness urges the people of Monaco to respect the measures of confinement and to limit contact with others to a minimum.”

In the Philippines, meanwhile, Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” Pimentel III, also tested positive for the same virus. However, Mr. Pimentel, according to a statement from the Makati Medical Center, “violated his Home Quarantine Protocol, entered the premises of the MMC-DR, thus, unduly exposed healthcare workers to possible infection.”

We’’re here to present a list of famous people who were infected in one of the most devastating pandemics in history, the 1918-1920 Flu Pandemic, otherwise known as the Spanish flu. The pandemic taught us that without necessary precautions, no matter who you are, or what you do: no one is safe. The World Health Organization presents the following guidelines:

• Wash your hands frequently.

• Maintain social distancing.




• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Cover your coughing and sneezing with your elbow (covering your cough with your hands can cause one to spread the infection).

• Seek medical help when presenting symptoms of fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

The Spanish flu pandemic is thought to have infected 500 million people, about 25% of the world’s population then. The virus is thought to have killed anywhere between 17 million to 100 million people. The discrepancy in the numbers comes from the fact of the limited medical records of the time, but more importantly, due to the self-interest of states to underreport cases: to conceal troop movements and to boost morale, at the cost of human lives, in the middle of the First World War.

The following are among the most famous people who caught the Spanish flu.

Alfonso XIII — The King of Spain from the moment of his birth, Alfonso XIII is the great-grandfather of the incumbent king, Felipe VI. His infection made the news: he was the monarch of the country that gave the 1918 pandemic its name, for a very unfair reason. Spain remained neutral in WWI, and thus had no motivation to underreport their flu cases. It thus seemed to the world that Spain had the most victims of the flu. The king survived the pandemic, but was deposed and exiled in 1931.

Greta Garbo — The glamorous movie star wasn’t always at the height of chic. Of humble origins from Sweden, Garbo lost her beloved father during the tail end of the pandemic, catching the disease herself at 14. She rallied, survived, and worked in a barbershop before being discovered as a model. Believed to be one of the most beautiful faces ever to grace the silver screen, the reclusive Garbo died in 1990.

Woodrow Wilson — The American president who ushered the United States into WWI, Wilson was also one of the leading architects of the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations. Wilson was believed to have caught the virus during the process of negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which ended the war between Germany and the Allies. While he did survive the flu, it left him weakened and may have contributed to a stroke that left him partially disabled in the same year. It was rumored that during his illness, First Lady Edith Wilson served as a “shadow president” and took over some of his duties — she would claim in her memoirs that all she ever did was determine which state matters would be presented to her husband. Either way, women in America would gain the right of suffrage during Wilson’s second term.

David Lloyd George — Considered one of the most successful British prime ministers, David Lloyd George is famous for sweeping reforms in the government, taking the first step towards Britain’s welfare state, reforming British taxation, not to mention leading the state during WWI. Lloyd George’s illness during the flu pandemic, while in the middle of the war, was so severe that his breathing had to be aided by a respirator. However, his condition was kept concealed by the government and underplayed by the press, again to aid in the war effort. While he survived the pandemic, his career as Prime Minister did not, ending in 1922. He continued to be active in politics, and died in 1945.

Walt Disney — Far from being a household name in the 1910s, Disney was a young man who forged his papers to reflect an older age to be able to join the war. However, he caught the flu before being shipped off to France, delaying his service, and arriving only after the Armistice. Had he not survived the flu, or else been shipped to the war, Disney would not have created the character of Mickey Mouse 10 years later, paving the way for the worldwide Disney entertainment empire.

Gaby Deslys — The name of this French actress might not ring a bell today, but the effects she left behind after her death in the flu pandemic survived. The boat-shaped bed seen in the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera and the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, which would inspire many future props in films and plays, belonged to her. Courted by kings, Deslys would become a victim of her own vanity. Contracting secondary complications of the throat from the flu, Deslys demanded that surgeons operating on her in December 1919 not scar her throat, a condition that impeded their efforts to save her. She died in February 1920. — JLG









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