In its race for clicks, the press fails to explore many of the critical differences between the Spanish Flu and COVID.
Long-term readers will recall that I have mentioned the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 in several posts, including one close to the centennial anniversary of that devastating episode.
Of course, the American press is quick to push any analogy to the flu epidemic to drive click and panic. Today’s offering is the news that COVID has now officially killed more Americans than the 1918 Influenza.
COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic did — approximately 675,000.
The U.S. population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country. But the COVID-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time.
“Big pockets of American society — and, worse, their leaders — have thrown this away,” medical historian Dr. Howard Markel of the University of Michigan said of the opportunity to vaccinate everyone eligible by now.
However, the press has left out many analysis details that reveal much starker differences between the Spanish Flu and COVID.
To begin with, the population of the United States as of today is 333,368,397. The US population in 1918 was 1/3rd of that amount, registering 103.2 million. Therefore, comparing apples to apples:
– SPANISH FLU FATALITIES/100K = 665
– COVID FATALITIES/100K = 202
Furthermore, the Spanish Flu heavily targeted young adults. COVID, in contrast, has its most significant impact on the elderly (whose immune system is not as robust as when young). Here is a chart summarizing the age impact between the two diseases.
Furthermore, as a reminder, here is the chart produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the relative risk of death in each age category compared to young, healthy adults (who were more vulnerable to the Spanish Flu).
The Spanish Flu was deadlier for young adults precisely because it created a cytokine storm, super-activating the immune system.
A cytokine storm is an overproduction of immune cells and their activating compounds (cytokines), which, in a flu infection, is often associated with a surge of activated immune cells into the lungs. The resulting lung inflammation and fluid buildup can lead to respiratory distress and can be contaminated by a secondary bacterial pneumonia—often enhancing the mortality in patients.
This little-understood phenomenon is thought to occur in at least several types of infections and autoimmune conditions, but it appears to be particularly relevant in outbreaks of new flu variants. Cytokine storm is now seen as a likely major cause of mortality in the 1918-20 “Spanish flu”—which killed more than 50 million people worldwide—and the H1N1 “swine flu” and H5N1 “bird flu” of recent years.
In these epidemics, the patients most likely to die were relatively young adults with apparently strong immune reactions to the infection—whereas ordinary seasonal flu epidemics disproportionately affect the very young and the elderly.
In contrast, COVID causes a cascade of symptoms that include inflammation. For the most part, its effects depend on the diet, weight, and preexisting conditions. If the press were genuinely interested in helping during this crisis, it would strongly urge healthy eating, exercise, and outdoor activities.
Finally, during the Spanish Flu era, doctors could not detect the virus nor had effective treatment options. This differs from COVID, which has many new and potentially new options. The press should be providing trustworthy analysis of effective products instead of highlighting only those with politically approved Big Pharma connections. Early treatment is going to keep the COVID fatality rates low.
The American Press: So much smug self-importance. So little understanding and reliable analysis.DONATE
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