Scientists compared the death rate of SARS-CoV-2 with the H1N1 virus that caused the Spanish flu pandemic between 1918 and 1920. According to scientists, COVID-19 was found to be more dangerous than the Spanish flu, which has already taken the lives of millions.
A team of researchers led by Jeremy Faust of Harvard Medical School compared excess mortality rates in New York City in the worst two months of both pandemics. Thus, at the peak of the Spanish flu pandemic in New York, there were 287 deaths per 100,000 people, and during the COVID-19 outbreak in March and April 2020 in the city, 202 deaths were recorded for the same number of people.
Scientists then compared the monthly death rate in the three years before the pandemics and found that 100 years ago there were about 100 deaths per month per 100,000 inhabitants, twice the current figures. Their calculations have allowed experts to conclude that the Spanish flu has multiplied mortality by three and, COVID-19, by four.
“In the case of insufficient treatment, SARS-CoV-2 infection can have mortality comparable to or even higher than infection with the 1918 H1N1 influenza virus,” the study authors state.
World experts agree with the evaluations of their US colleagues and at the same time point out that final conclusions can only be drawn after the current pandemic has ended.
In particular, experts argue that the aforementioned study looks at mortality in only one city, New York. Therefore, the data obtained cannot be extrapolated to other cities or countries.
Second, experts point out that in their study the authors analyze the data on deaths registered during the first two months of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. But at the beginning of the epidemic, when very little was known about the infection, the fatality was higher than now. As clinical experience accumulated and therapeutic approaches developed, the mortality rate began to decline. Therefore, definitively comparing both infections – the Spanish flu and SARS-CoV-2, which caused the current pandemic – would be possible later.
In the period from 1918 to 1920, the world faced the Spanish flu pandemic, caused by an outbreak of the influenza A virus of the H1N1 subtype. About a third of the population became infected. It was one of the most devastating and terrifying pandemics the world has ever seen. Unlike other flu epidemics that mainly affect children and the elderly, its victims were also young and healthy adults, but also animals, including dogs and cats.
The influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 have common features: both are transmitted by air and affect the respiratory organs.
The study has been published on the JAMA Network portal.