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1918 Spanish Influenza Vs Coronovirus of 2020

by Ece Uyguc about a year ago in health
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Similarities and Differences of the Two Pandemics

1918_flu_outbreak_RedCrossLitterCarriersSpanishFluWashingtonDC- Source: https://warontherocks.com/

It is important to be informed about the previous pandemic to better understand Covid-19 and how to cope with it.

The 1918 flu is caused by an H1N1 influenza A virus. Spanish influenza, which was active from 1918 to 1920, infected nearly 500 million people including 675,000 American citizens.

Spanish flue showed up as three big waves. The first wave, which spread to Europe, ended up quickly and with mild complications. However, the second wave began violently and spread to Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. This time it was very intense and deadly.

This 1918 pandemic is recognized with the name of Spanish influenza because its first public news appeared in Madrid’s ABC newspaper on 22 May 1918.

Covid-19 was declared as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020.

Since the Spanish Influenza was outburst in 1918, for those living today, Covid-19 is the first pandemic we have ever faced.

When we compare the two disasters, we see some similarities. For example, both the Covid-19 of 2020 and 1918 influenza pandemics similarly caused damaging impacts on the global economy and had a significant delay in its diagnosis, treatment, and vaccines.

They had some differences, as well. The two diseases differed mostly in the highest risk population and the mechanism of death. The former affected less than half of the world countries and the most vulnerable groups were healthy adults ranging from 25 to40 years, while Covid-19 has affected nearly all countries and the highest risk groups are adults over 65 years of age with comorbidities.

In the tables below, we can see the mortality rates of the 1918 influenza and Covid-19 pandemics:

Screenshot from clevelandfed.org

The causes of deaths of the infected people of both pandemics also deferred. Those infected with 1918 Spanish influenza mostly died from secondary bacterial pneumonia, while victims of Covid-19 mostly died from an excessively active immune response leading to organ failure.

According to the recent research findings, more people died in the more polluted cities proving a direct link between air pollution and influenza contamination.

It is not easy to compare the economic impacts of both pandemics because of the differences in the macroeconomic conditions in terms of the two periods. Covid-19 affected the global financial markets negatively and in a way not witnessed since the 2008 financial global crisis.

When the Spanish flu started to spread in 1918, the world’s population was weak and vulnerable due to the heavy impacts of World War I that lasted for four years. Therefore, the economic damage cannot be implicitly calculated. However, The economic crises that emerged in Europe after 1921 may be among the causes of unemployment and the famous German Inflation.

According to an academic article in the Journal of Political Economy, the flu-born group received lower educational attainment by adulthood, faced with increased rates of physical disability, received lower lifetime income, and lower socioeconomic status than those born before and after the flu pandemic.

The Spanish flu caused an economic contraction reducing both GDP and employment. Businesses and schools were temporarily closed but those were not as stringent as the shutdowns we face during the Covid-19 crisis.

Researches show that there was a negative labor supply shock since working-age adults had unusually high mortality rates in Spanish influenza. Among the infected people of Covid-19, the working-age adults are most likely to survive and therefore a negative labor supply shock is unlikely to happen these days.

This new pandemic will eventually come to an end. It is important to take lessons from the previous pandemic and promote new ideas on how to effectively fight against the current pandemic. Please read my article on the Covid-19 disaster on the below link:


The shorter version of this story was first published on another platform with a different title.


About the author

Ece Uyguc

Economist, certified English<>Turkish translator, writer, NFT collector





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