At Least Coronavirus Not as Disastrous as Spanish Flu

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

The death rate from those who get the coronavirus is projected by some experts to be about 1 percent, although no one really knows yet. In any case, it is a bad one.

Still, it is shaping up to be far less disastrous than the Spanish flu of 1918. According to some estimates, the death rate was 2-3 percent back then. However, the numbers suggest that the real death rate could have been much, much higher. It is hard to tell because back then recordkeeping was primitive to nonexistent in many places, especially in such regions as India, China and Africa but even in rural America. 

Let’s look at some numbers. An estimated 500 million people worldwide caught the Spanish flu and an estimated 20 to 50 million died of it, although some put the number closer to 100 million. That would imply a death rate of anywhere from 4 percent to 20 percent.

Since the global population was 1.8 to 1.9 billion in 1918, 100 million deaths would mean more than 5 percent of the world’s population perished. Even if the low estimate of 20 million deaths was accurate, that would mean about 1 of every 100 people on Earth died that year, far worse than anything projected for the coronavirus.

The Spanish flu was the worst pandemic in modern history. One oddity about it was that it ravaged healthy and young adults. More U.S. soldiers died from the flu than were killed in battle during World War I. It particularly devastated pregnant women. According to Wikipedia, one historian reported that in 13 studies of hospitalized women, the death rate ranged between 23 percent and 71 percent. Of those who survived, 26 percent lost their child.

So many deaths occurred that funeral homes were overwhelmed and there were reports of people resorting to digging their own family graves. Some businesses and public places shut down, libraries stopped lending books and ordinances were passed that banned public spitting. According to History.com, the New York City health commissioner ordered businesses to open on staggered shifts to reduce crowding on the subways.

About 675,000 Americans died of the Spanish flu in 1918. That compares to the 12,000 Americans who died during swine flu epidemic of 2009-10. By the way, 1918 was the only year in the 20th century in which the U.S. population declined.

One more thing: The Spanish flu hit a peak in October of 1918. By mid-November, it had all but disappeared. Since viruses often mutate, some theorize that the Spanish flu virus changed into something far less lethal.

Fingers crossed that the same kind of mutation happens with the coronavirus. And soon.

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.