Covid set to become America’s deadliest pandemic as U.S. deaths near 1918 flu estimates

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A woman and a child walk through a field of white flags on The Mall near the Washington Monument in Washington, DC on September 16, 2021.

Mandel Ngan | TBEN | Getty Images

Covid-19 is set to become the deadliest epidemic in recent American history, approaching the estimated number of deaths in the United States from the 1918 influenza pandemic, according to data compiled by the University Johns Hopkins.

Reported deaths in the United States from Covid approached 675,000 on Monday and are increasing on average by more than 1,900 deaths per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The country is currently experiencing a new wave of new infections, fueled by the rapidly spreading delta variant.

The 1918 flu – which occurred in three waves, occurring in the spring of 1918, in the fall of 1918; and the winter and spring of 1919 – killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention. It was until now considered the deadliest pandemic in recent US history.

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“I think we’ve done pretty well now with the historical comparisons,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a physician and medical historian at the University of Michigan. He added that it was time to stop looking back to 1918 as a guide on how to act in the present and start thinking about the future from 2021.

“This is the pandemic that I will study and teach the next generation of doctors and public health students,” he said.

Admittedly, a direct side-by-side comparison of the raw numbers for each pandemic does not provide all the context, given the vast technological, medical, social and cultural advancements over the past century, say Markel and other health experts.

It is important to consider the population when talking about epidemics or disasters, say health experts and statisticians.

In 1918, for example, America’s population was less than a third of that of today, with an estimated 103 million people living in America just before the roaring 1920s. Today, nearly 330 million people live in the United States. This means that the 1918 flu killed around 1 in 150 Americans, compared to 1 in 500 who have died from Covid so far.

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The 1918 virus also tended to kill differently from Covid, experts say. With World War I there was a massive movement of men across America and Europe. While the coronavirus can be particularly serious for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, the 1918 virus was unusual in that it killed many young adults.

Globally, the 1918 flu killed more people, around 20 to 50 million, according to the World Health Organization. So far, Covid has claimed the lives of around 4.7 million people worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

Unlike today, there was no vaccine for the 1918 flu. There was also no CDC or national public health service. The Food and Drug Administration existed but was made up of a very small group of people. In addition, there were no antibiotics, intensive care units, ventilators, or IV fluids.

Scientists hadn’t even seen a virus under a microscope. They lacked the technology and knew next to nothing about virology, which was considered a nascent science because viruses are physically smaller under a microscope and more difficult to identify than bacterial infections.

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“Obviously, we have much better benefits now, 100 years later,” said Dr. Paul Offit, who advises the FDA on Covid vaccines, adding he was “frustrated”.

The situation in the United States is worse now than it was a year ago, as a large part of the country’s population is still unvaccinated, he added.

“I can tell you that we are also seeing a lot of children in hospital, who have high risk conditions and the problem is not that they did not receive their third dose. The problem is that they are not. vaccinated, ”said Offit, also director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Markel agreed that the United States has made progress, saying, “The reality is that we have no historical precedent as of where we are now.”

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