COVID Has Officially Killed More Americans Than the Spanish Flu in 1918

Becoming the United States' deadliest pandemic, ever.
Irmak Bayrakdar
Soldiers with Spanish flu at a hospital ward at Kansas.National Museum of Health and Medicine

The 1918 influenza pandemic ravaged the world, causing a death toll estimated at 50 million to 100 million, and if that didn't sound like much, we're talking about 3 to 6 percent of the world’s population at the time. The pandemic became known as the “Spanish flu” or the “Spanish Lady” after heavy news coverage in Spain, while it was actually a global epidemic. Luckily, the current COVID-19 pandemic has a long way to reach such numbers worldwide. 

The number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, however, has surpassed the estimated death toll of the 1918 influenza pandemic that was "previously" considered America’s most lethal pandemic in its history, according to data shared by Johns Hopkins University.

The death toll has passed 676.000 in the United States

After the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus was reported in the United States, the country has seen a surge in COVID cases and, unfortunately, COVID-related deaths. The estimated number of deaths recorded in the Spanish flu was around 675,000 in the U.S. However, new data shows that the number of deaths related to COVID had passed 676.000 by Tuesday, September 21 in the country. 

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to compare COVID-19 to Spanish flu, if we're talking numbers. CNBC reports that in 1918, the U.S. population was an estimated 103 million people before the roaring 1920s. And today, there are nearly 330 million people living in the U.S., meaning that the 1918 flu killed about 1 in every 150 Americans, compared with 1 in 500 who have died from COVID-19 so far.

Considering these figures, this news may not seem like a lot at first glance, but with technological advancements that have made way for multiple COVID-19 vaccines -- with three of them made in the U.S. -- that could have prevented further infections of the disease, it actually is. Contrary to the medicine back then, we can study viruses in detail and have access to antibiotics, intensive care units, ventilators, or IV fluids now.

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Talking to The Guardian, Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care research at the National Institutes of Health, said “They [pandemics] can do terrible things while they’re raging”, and added that "COVID-19 could have been far less lethal in the U.S. if more people had gotten vaccinated faster, and we still have an opportunity to turn it around”.

Scientists say that COVID-19 may never be over, but, if we're lucky, it can become a mild seasonal illness over time as humans develop antibodies. For the time being, the daily death toll is more than 1,900 on average in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins data. And only 54 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated with an additional 9 percent partly vaccinated, so far. 

Whether the COVID-19 pandemic will dethrone 1918 influenza as the deadliest in human history or not is still unclear, but, with vaccines becoming available to more people every day, we can keep fighting for as long as we can.

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