KEY POINTS

  • Scientists revealed the current pandemic is as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu
  • The Spanish flu claimed about 50-100 million lives
  • This translates to roughly 3% to 5% of the world's population at the time

The virulence of the coronavirus could be compared to that of the 1918 flu pandemic, researchers said. 

In a recent study, researchers said the death toll from coronavirus pandemic can be worse if public health officials and world leaders fail to sufficiently contain its spread. The 1918 flu pandemic had claimed the lives of around 50-100 million people or roughly around 3% to 5% of the world’s population at the time. The study and its findings were published Thursday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Dr. Jeremy Faust, Harvard Medical School instructor and the lead author of the study, said the objective of their study is to inform people the coronavirus crisis has the potential to be like the 1918 flu pandemic.

"This is not something to just shrug off like the flu," said the study’s lead author in an interview. He added the outbreak that occurred in New York was 70% as bad as that of 1918 when ventilators did not exist or scientific advances known to man which help save lives were yet to be discovered, CNBC reported.

1918 and coronavirus pandemic 1918 and coronavirus pandemic Photo: cottonbro - Pexels

Researchers compared the number of deaths in New York City at the height of the 1918 pandemic with those that occurred in the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak. They used publicly available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to conduct their analysis.

While the death rate in the 1918 health crisis was higher, its early onset was comparable to what researchers observed during the first two months of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City. However, when researchers took into consideration the advances in public health, modern medicine and hygiene, they found the increase during the coronavirus outbreak during the first few months was significantly greater compared to the peak of the 1918 flu pandemic.

"If insufficiently treated, SARS-CoV-2 infection may have comparable or greater mortality than 1918 H1N1 influenza virus infection," the researchers wrote.

But, they admitted their work had limitations. The study’s authors said it was not known how many COVID-19 deaths were prevented since the outbreak started because of advancements in health care that were not available one hundred years ago. These include ventilators and supplemental oxygen.