Coronavirus is comparable and probably deadlier than the 1918 flu pandemic, researchers say in a new JAMA study
The deadly coronavirus, which started in Wuhan, China in December 2019, has killed at least 750, 000 precious lives around the world. As of Friday, over 21 million cases coronavirus have been reported worldwide.
Now, scientists are saying the coronavirus is at least as deadly as the 1918 Influenza (flu) pandemic , the virus that ravaged the world between 1918 and 1920 and killed millions of people. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, the virus infected 500 million people–about a third of the world’s population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
According to a study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, the coronavirus pandemic could be as deadly as the 1918 H1N1 influenza and the death toll could be worse if world leaders fail to take quick and proper actions to contain the virus.
“What we want people to know is that this has 1918 potential,” lead author Dr. Jeremy Faust said in an interview cited in a report by CNBC. Dr. Faust added that the outbreak in New York was at least 70% as bad as the one in 1918 when doctors didn’t have ventilators or other advances to help save lives like they do today. “This is not something to just shrug off like the flu.”
This is not the first time COVID-19 is compared to 1918 flu. Last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned the coronavirus could be as bad as 1918 flu pandemic. During a Georgetown University Global Health Initiative, Dr. Fauci said, “This is a pandemic of historic proportions. I think we can’t deny that fact. It’s something I think that when history looks back on it, it will be comparable to what we saw in 1918. We have a serious situation here in the United States.”
As part of the JAMA study, researchers compared excess deaths in New York City during the peak of the 1918 pandemic with those during the first few months of the Covid-19 outbreak. They later used public data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC), the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the U.S. Census Bureau to perform their analysis.
Based on their analysis, the researchers found that the increase in deaths during the 1918 flu pandemic was higher overall, but comparable to that observed in the first two months of the coronavirus outbreak in New York City. But when taking into account improvements in hygiene, modern medicine and public health, the increase during the early coronavirus outbreak was “substantially greater” than during the peak of the 1918 pandemic, the researchers wrote.
“This cohort study found that the absolute increase in deaths over baseline (ie, excess mortality) observed during the peak of 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic was higher than but comparable to that observed during the first 2 months of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.
“If insufficiently treated, SARS-CoV-2 infection may have comparable or greater mortality than 1918 H1N1 influenza virus infection,” Faust wrote in the paper. He’s a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.