Tuesday, September 29, 2020

When a flu epidemics wasn't the end of the world: 1995-1996

Covid-19 has been compared to the swine flu, SARS, Hong Kong flu, Spanish flu, and others. I was told about a rather high number of flu fatalities in Czechoslovakia of the early 1980s. But only yesterday, I was reminded about something that I should totally remember but I don't.

In 1995-1996, within just seven weeks, 11% of Czechs (over 1.1 million) contracted flu. The number of cases with complications was about 90,000 while 12,000 people died (although some later studies claimed that the number was just 5,000, still high). With Covid-19 in 2020, after six months, 635 Czechs died with Covid-19 so far.

OK, in 1995-1996, I was spending a lot of quality time ;-) on Liane BBS, a North Bohemian Bulletin Board Service (Liane stands for the Liberec Academic Network, Liberec is a North Bohemian/Sudetenland city) which was launched in early 1994. You may still read my (Lumo King Superstring's) 181 posts on the CZscience board. ;-)

Incidentally, I already had accounts on some foreign BBSes (controlled through Telnet) in 1993. Fine. Is there some sign of the terrible flu epidemics that killed 12,000 Czechs on the Liane BBS? Because I honestly don't remember any bad events in 1995-1996 and I assure you that I consider 1995 one of the most memorable years of my life (so far?).

So I made a few searches and... I found one post, on the CZexperience board. (MadGeorge, the admin, wanted to attract foreign users so boards were in English but the CZ* boards in Czech always prevailed, anyway LOL.) Here is a translation:
By: Jovo
Date: December 7th, 1995
Title: Flu...

OK, so I was swayed down by the "Moravian" flu... [First cases were seen in South Moravia in November 1995, LM.] How strong my feeling of surprise was when I met my sister, while I was staggering into the door (she came to Prague on Monday, started to fever-burn, and in the record short 3 hours, she returned home immediately afterwards) who was looking as if she were run over by a steam roller yesterday. In the kitchen, I literally collided with my mother, who – using her hand suffering from the seniors' shivering vibration – tried to swallow some bromhexine. I tumbled down to the floor, gasping for breath.

But the greatest surprise of all was that my father (who hadn't had flu for some ten years) was glued to his bed. He looked like a carefully buried skeleton and his goal was to beat the temperature record.

The temperature (which has been recorded by the experts in the Prague-Klementinum library's weather station since 1786) measured in our family has never surpassed 38.5 °C in the recent 150 years. That figure was added to the chronicles in 1849 when a distant relative contracted bubonic plague. My sister wasn't a top contestant, after all, my father was cured after three days of 39.4 °C, and that's why the great task was waiting for me. I must report a success: after I took the last paralen (Paracetamol) and a special little herbal tea with honey (made by my motha), I adjusted the reading to 39.9 °C and I dare to say that if I had turned on my little lamp above the bed, I would have burned down. I managed to sweat so much that my swimming course turned out to be useful. After several minutes of exhausting crawl, I finally paddled back to the dry land.

Nevertheless, I did successfully cure myself, transferred some of the more resilient copies of the virus to my mother, and that is why I am here, so that I may annoy you through the Internets, too.

P.S.: I wouldn't wish this kind of flu even on my worst enemy.
This Jovo dude seems like a talented and entertaining writer, it's too bad that I was largely ignoring him in the mid 1990s. Weirdly enough, just a week earlier, the same Jovo wrote about a book by Stephen King that he had just read where a U.S. lab develops a deadly flu causing mutations and a terrible death. A week after the post translated above, Petricek also informed everyone that flu confined him to his bed and even later in the week, he was still "groggy" and looked like a green seven card. Indeed, all these Liane BBS flu episodes of the 1990s are restricted to the end of 1995.

Flu epidemics could have been 4 times faster and 25 times more deadly than the ongoing Covid-19 non-events in Czechia. But no one had the slightest idea to declare the state of emergency, to ban businesses, soccer matches, or masses, or to revoke the basic civil rights. OK, schools were closed on December 12th for longer Christmas holidays (the other two main stories of the day were about a scandal of the KB bank's financing for Poldi Kladno, an embattled privatized factory; and about a Russian mafia LOL); the gospel about the Armageddon-like epidemic was described as the "joyful news for the schoolkids" and indeed, lots of teenagers were exploding with happiness there LOL. Parents may have trouble to store their kids for a week or two. Nothing was said about the medical impact of the epidemic at all, let alone the thousands of deaths! The minister of health wasn't telling women that they may only have sex with a validated partner. Just like now, physicians were telling people not to panic – however, those 25 years ago, they were perfectly successful. Now, some 20-30 percent of Czechs (and over 90% in Anglo-Saxon countries) do panic about a much milder wave.

The 1990s were a very different era than the year 2020. In Czechia, it was the period of the ultimate freedom, freedom that wasn't perfect but it was closer to perfection than the conditions in any previous decade in the Czech history (over 1,000 years) and, less happily, any decade afterwards. The journey to freedom has been heavily reversed in Czechia (and elsewhere, perhaps especially in the West) and the Internet discussions are really full of observations that "not even the Nazis or the commies" were restricting our lives in one way or another.

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