It is time to put the 2020 pandemic in perspective with recent history. Let’s take a look at some of the more serious pandemics over the past 100 years and see how they might compare to the coronavirus and Covid-19 today. I mean to hear the media report it, this is the worst public health crisis in American history, which of course is reckless at best and totally dishonest at worst. This is a pandemic which is dangerous to a fairly specific subset of Americans, but it is not the indiscriminate killer others have been.
Americans need honest coverage of what is happening and not something that has been ground into oblivion to serve the political desires of a small group of agitated reporters and editors. The only way to have an honest conversation about what is happening is having a clear understanding of how the Covid-19 illness stacks up against other contagious outbreaks.
So, for context, here are some important historical events that have similarities to what we are facing now.
The Singapore Flu of 1957
In February 1957, a new influenza A (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic (“Asian Flu”). This H2N2 virus was comprised of three different genes from an H2N2 virus that originated from an avian influenza A virus, including the H2 hemagglutinin and the N2 neuraminidase genes. It was first reported in Singapore in February 1957, Hong Kong in April 1957, and in coastal cities in the United States in summer 1957. The estimated number of deaths was between 1.1 and 4 million worldwide and about 125,000 in the United States.
For Covid-19 to be equivalent in severity in 2020 about 250,000 Americans or more would need to die from the virus. That’s because in 1957 there were 172 million people living in the country.
The case fatality rate of the Singapore Flu was approximately 0.67%
Hong Kong Flu 1968 and 1969
The 1968 pandemic was caused by an influenza A (H3N2) virus comprised of two genes from an avian influenza A virus, including a new H3 hemagglutinin, but also contained the N2 neuraminidase from the 1957 H2N2 virus. It was first noted in the United States in September 1968. The estimated number of deaths was more than 1 million worldwide and about 100,000+ in the United States. Today that would be 175,000 deaths or more. Again, you must take into consideration the size of the nation and in 1968 we had about 203 million Americans.
Most excess deaths, at that time, were in people 65 years of age and older. The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide today as a seasonal influenza A virus. Seasonal H3N2 viruses, which are associated with severe illness in older people, undergo regular antigenic drift.
For Covid-19 to be equivalent in 2020 at least 175,000 Americans would need to die from the illness. With the numbers we are seeing today reaching those numbers are possible. Remember however in 1968, there was no political or financial reason to pad the numbers as much as possible and its likely the actual number of fatalities was mush higher.
The fatality rate for the Hong Kong flu ended around .5%
Spanish Flu 1918-1920
The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.
In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in the spring of 1918. It is estimated that 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be more than 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 to 700,000+ occurring in the United States. It killed young men and women. It killed the elderly. It killed children. It killed healthy young GI’s and the infirm. It killed without regard to age or relative health. Today, to be on par with the 1918 pandemic, the coronavirus would need to kill 2.5 million Americans or more.
What’s notable however is nobody blamed Woodrow Wilson for the calamity or placed the Constitution on hold for the disease to run its course.
And for comparative purposes here is one more pandemic to consider when you think of something that is really deadly and dangerous.
The Black Plague of the 1300’s
More than 20 Million people in Europe died over a few years from the Bubonic plague. The death rate was between one third and one half of all people at the time. It took centuries to recover.
Black death killed just about anyone who got in the way. It did so without fear or favor and was far more devastating than anything we have known since.
So, before you go into a hyper vigilant panic, please take a moment and put things in context first.
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