COVID killed more in US than Spanish flu, but it isn’t the worst

The 1918 flu killed about 1 in every 150 Americans, compared with 1 in 500 who have died from coronavirus so far

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University stated that COVID deaths in the US has recently gone past 6,75,000 – the number of casualties caused by the 1918 influenza. Pic: Wikimedia.org

It is official. COVID-19 has gone past the 1918 influenza in causing maximum human casualties across the US.

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University stated that COVID deaths in the US has recently gone past 6,75,000 – the number of casualties caused by the 1918 influenza, reported CNBC.

The COVID pandemic is killing an average of more than 1,900 people every day and the latest Delta variant has resulted in the cases to rise once again. This way, COVID has surpassed all other flus, thus being recorded as the country’s most fatal pandemic in recent history.

Dr. Howard Markel, a physician at the University of Michigan, told CNBC: “This is the pandemic I will be studying and teaching to the next generation of doctors and public-health students. It is time to stop looking back to 1918 as a guide for how to act in the present and to start thinking forward from 2021.”

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While COVID has gone ahead in terms of numbers, one needs to consider populations then and now to draw appropriate conclusions.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the 1918 flu – commonly known as the Spanish flu – hit the US in three waves, spring of 1918, the fall of 1918 and the winter of 1919. Globally, it killed about 50 million people while the COVID has, so far, claimed 4.7 million lives.

In 1918, the US had a population of just around 100 million. Today, the country’s population stands at approximately 330 million, which means the Spanish flu killed about 1 in every 150 Americans, compared with 1 in 500 who have died from COVID so far.

Additionally, one needs to consider the technological, social and cultural advances that have happened in the last 100 years to understand why the 1918 flu was more deadly.

Also read: Live with it, chances of eliminating COVID unlikely, warns WHO

The flu then affected younger population more with massive built up and movement of soldiers happening across the globe due to World War I. COVID, in contrast, has impacted the elderly more in a world deeply connected with the internet, requiring less mobility.

Importantly, there were no vaccines then. The US did not even have a national public health department. Doctors were not laced with antibiotics, intensive care units, ventilators or IV fluids.

Not much was known about viruses. In fact, scientists hadn’t even seen a virus under a microscope. The science of virology was alien and identifying viruses was an almost impossible task.

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