by Claire Chambers
At the time of writing President Donald Trump is an inpatient at the Walter Reed Medical Center. He is of course receiving treatment for coronavirus, a virus he has repeatedly downplayed as being ‘like the flu’. Influenza causes a temperature, achy muscles, often a headache, and some upper respiratory tract symptoms such as a cough. Transmission is through droplet spread, handling of passive vectors like objects and surfaces, and physical contact with the infected. To be fair, this does sound rather like Covid-19, but it is there that the similarities end. Flu is a completely different virus, from which people mostly recover within a week. By contrast, with SARS-CoV-2 it is often in the second week of the illness that some sufferers become alarmingly sick. Influenza tends to kill younger people, because they sometimes have an overactive immune response to the virus leading to organ failure. Meanwhile, one of the reasons for the particular concern for Trump (out of all the Republicans who became infected in the last extraordinary week) is that it is old, obese men who are most at risk of dying. Thinking about the similarities and differences between influenza and Covid-19 brings me to two contemporary pandemic novels by women writers.
‘Changed utterly’: The 1918 Flu in Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars
Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue sets her latest novel The Pull of the Stars in Dublin against the backdrop of the final year of the First World War and the ‘Spanish Flu’ that killed more people than had died in the conflict. The intriguing creation story behind this publication is that Donoghue was almost at the proof-checking stage when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold globally. With the help of her publishers (Picador in the UK, and in America Little, Brown), the book was brought out quickly, and she was able to count on a readership sadly better educated about pandemics than she ever expected. Read more »