Can Covid be compared to Spanish flu? Will current pandemic follow same path as the 1918 one?

It was 1918 when the Liberty Loan Parade was organised in Philadelphia to economically help the troopers who fought in World War I. It was a gathering that didn’t have many takers amongst intellectuals, since the Spanish Flu was already wreaking havoc. The Philadelphia public well being director nonetheless went forward with the operate. A gathering of over two lakh folks was adopted by over 47,000 contemporary circumstances of the flu.

The Spanish flu was so extreme that 4.4 to 6.1 per cent of the Indian inhabitants died, in accordance to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge. The 1918 pandemic killed round 11-14 million in India.

Cut to 2021 in India. Political rallies, non secular gatherings. They let you know how only a few be taught from historical past. These occasions from early 2021 had been adopted by the second wave of the pandemic in India. Often, comparisons have been drawn between the Spanish flu of 1918, renamed 1918 H1N1 flu, and Covid-19, with many believing that it might follow the same trajectory. While the primary rules of an infection unfold stay the same, each the pandemics are very completely different and never comparable.


In spite of the similarities in an infection unfold and the public well being response being very related, these two pandemics can’t be compared, specialists mentioned.

“The third waves of the Spanish flu and Covid-19 19 cannot be compared because these diseases are different in how they spread and the new variants make it difficult for Covid-19 to be compared to any other infectious diseases. But what is constant is that epidemiological triad of agent, host and environment, the interaction between these three is important in understanding how this disease spreads faster. Human behavior is important. It is in the hands of human beings,” mentioned Professor Giridhara Babu, epidemiologist, Public Health Foundation of India.


Experts, nevertheless, mentioned there was quite a bit to be taught from previous epidemics and pandemics in responding to future challenges. “Both 1918-20 influenza pandemic and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have been caused by respiratory viruses and public health measures taken by authorities are very similar,” mentioned Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, epidemiologist.

“In the flu pandemic of 1918-20, the second wave was the most lethal. That has not been a uniform case in Covid-19 pandemic, and we should thank some of the medical and public health advances of the last century. However, for India, the pandemic seems to have repeated history. The ongoing second wave of Covid-19 has not only been brutal, but harshest pandemic wave witnessed in any part of the world,” Dr Lahariya mentioned.

Experts mentioned that although the third and fourth waves had been comparatively small in influenza pandemic, there have been many explanation why each couldn’t be compared. One of the main causes is that SARS-CoV-2 has new variants which are extra transmissible, displaying indications of immune escape and a few extra virulence.

“We actually do not know if one thing like that occurred 100 years in the past. We want to do not forget that the virus that precipitated the pandemic 100 years in the past was recognized 13 years after the pandemic ended,” said Dr Lahariya.

“Now, with new variants, the SARS-CoV-2 is a lot different in behavior, if not genetically, from ancestral virus first reported from Wuhan in Dec 2019. Therefore, we should not presume anything. Apply the principles of epidemiology, prepare for third, fourth and all the subsequent waves, till the disease becomes endemic,” he additional mentioned.


Dr Chandrakant Lahariya additionally mentioned a 3rd wave of Covid-19 may hit India after November.

“There are still many unknowns and the only way to prepare for them is by applying knowledge we have. We know that the susceptible pool is reduced, but epidemiology tells us that there could be third wave anytime around or after November 2021. It also tells that it would be smaller in number of people getting affected (as the pool of susceptible has come down),” he mentioned.


The second wave of the Spanish flu killed these between the age of 30-40. The second wave of coronavirus killed many in the mid-age group. The second waves of each the pandemics had been extra extreme. However, a replication of the third wave shouldn’t be what specialists count on.

The Sanitary Commissioner’s report means that the loss of life fee in Bombay throughout the flu pandemic in the week ending July 6 touched the peak of the pandemic’s first wave, which was beneath 80 deaths per thousand inhabitants. However, the peak in the second wave, in the week ending October 12, shot up to as excessive as practically 255 deaths per thousand.

Similarly, with Madras, the peak was beneath 70 deaths per thousand in the first wave, whereas it rose to above 200 deaths per thousand in the second wave.

It took one other 11 weeks for the third wave to arrive after the peak of the second wave. Also, the third wave was considerably much less extreme than the earlier one. The loss of life fee in Bombay remained beneath 90 deaths per thousand, even at the peak of the third wave.


There had been three completely different waves of the pandemic, beginning in March 1918 and subsiding by the summer season of 1919. The pandemic peaked in the US throughout the second wave, in the fall of 1918. This extremely deadly second wave was accountable for most of the US deaths. A 3rd wave of sickness occurred throughout the winter and spring of 1919, including to the pandemic loss of life toll. The third wave of the pandemic subsided throughout the summer season of 1919.

THAT WAS 1918, THIS IS 2021

“A hundred years later, we have better technology, better resources in terms of controlling it, we have a vaccine, all of this makes it easier for us to tackle Covid-19 rather than Spanish flu,” mentioned professor Giridhara Babu.

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