Members of the American Red Cross remove victims of influenza in 1918.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Tribune News Service via Getty Images
The coronavirus is at least as deadly as the 1918 pandemic flu, and the death toll could be worse if leaders and health officials do not contain it properly, researchers warned in a study published Thursday in medical journal JAMA Network Open was released.
"We want people to know that this has 1918 potential," said lead author Dr. Jeremy Faust in an interview, adding that the New York outbreak was at least 70% as bad as it was in 1918, when doctors didn't have ventilators or other advances to save lives like they do today. "It's not something you can just shake off like the flu."
The researchers compared the excessive deaths in New York City during the height of the 1918 pandemic with those in the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak. They used public data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct their analyzes.
The increase in deaths during the 1918 pandemic flu was higher overall, but comparable to that seen in the first two months of the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, the researchers found. Taking into account improvements in hygiene, modern medicine, and public health, the surge during the early coronavirus outbreak was "significantly larger" than it was during the peak of the 1918 pandemic, the researchers wrote.
"In the event of inadequate treatment, a SARS-CoV-2 infection can have a mortality rate comparable to or higher than that of an H1N1 influenza virus infection from 1918," wrote Faust in the newspaper. He is a doctor at Brigham and Women & # 39; s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.
The study authors noted that their research had limitations. The researchers said it was unknown how many Covid-19 deaths have been prevented since the outbreak began due to modern improvements in health care that were not available a century ago, such as supplemental oxygen and ventilators.
The new study comes as the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly in the United States and around the world. The virus has infected more than 20 million people worldwide and killed at least 749,700 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US has the world's worst outbreak, with more than 5 million infections and at least 166,000 deaths, data from Johns Hopkins shows.
The US recorded more than 1,500 deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday. It was the deadliest day for the country since the end of May.
A separate study published July 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the number of confirmed deaths in the US from the coronavirus is much lower than the actual number.
These researchers found that the above-average number of deaths was above the normal levels attributed to Covid-19, leading them to conclude that many of these deaths were likely caused by the coronavirus, but not confirmed. State disagreements and a sharp spike in US deaths due to a pandemic suggest the death toll from Covid-19 is undercounted.
The World Health Organization says there is no "silver bullet" for the virus and health care workers are likely to need a range of treatments to help patients fight the disease. Currently, many hospitals in the US are using the antiviral drug Remdesvir, which has been shown to reduce the recovery time of some hospital patients. According to the WHO, numerous vaccines are also in development, of which at least 26 are already in human studies.
Public health officials and infectious disease experts have often compared Covid-19 to the 1918 flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans, from 1918 to 1919, according to the CDC. For comparison: more than 20 million people died in the First World War.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said the coronavirus is a "pandemic of historic proportions," and the history books will likely compare it to 1918. He mentioned the "extreme" range of symptoms people can have after contracting the virus, including pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome. PMIS is a rare inflammatory disease in children with Covid-19 that is similar to Kawasaki syndrome and has caused neurological damage in some children.
"We learn something every week," he said on July 13th.
Researchers on the new study said their results could help officials contextualize the unusual magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic and "guide them towards more prudent measures that could help reduce transmission".