How long the 1918 Pandemic lasted & what it suggests about this one
Bottom Line: Unless you have the ‘vid about now you can probably begin to feel the tide meaningfully turning on the pandemic. The news is improving everywhere. Fewer new cases, more vaccines and soon the end of the traditional flu season. That’s especially true in Florida where our trend for new cases remains the lowest since the first week of November, new vaccine doses into the state now match our state’s population and accessibility of those vaccines are soon set to expand beyond seniors, first-responders and teachers. All positive. While we don’t know exactly when this pandemic will end, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. All of this led to me wondering what the trajectory was of the 1918, the one most comparable to what we’ve lived through for over a year now. The takeaways and timelines between that pandemic and this one are interesting.
The 1918 pandemic, caused by the H1N1 virus, (what’s been the most common cause of the seasonal flu ever since) coincided with the 1918 flu season. The first identified cases in the US were in January of 1918. Cases slowly grew through the winter, but it wasn’t until Spring, when Americans we’re more inclined to be out and about interacting with one another that the virus really took off. There was a surge in cases in what became referred to as the “Spring wave”. That wave subsided over the summer but by October, at the onset of the traditional flu season, the virus took off again with the highest numbers of cases to date. That process repeated over the next year, though cases in 1919 were well below 1918’s levels...however the worst was yet to come. The worst wave of the 1918 pandemic didn’t occur until the winter of 1920 in what was referred to as the fourth wave and final wave.
The 1918, H1N1 pandemic lasted a total of 26 months, or just over two years before the deadly effects of the virus seemingly ran their course. Without antivirals, a combination of herd immunity and less severe strains likely led to the end of the pandemic. That’s instructive in the context of where we are with the COVID pandemic. The spread of COVID around the world mirrored the 1918 pandemic. From when it started to the ebb and flow of it all since. We’re now 16 months into this pandemic and history suggests that even if we didn’t have antivirals, we’d be well more than halfway through the pandemic at this phase. With the antivirals, it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll put this one behind us within the next ten months. But what's interesting is despite the vast differences in society today vs then and with all of the advances in medical technology over 103 years ago – at best we’ll have only shaved a handful of months off of the duration. Given the proclivity for history to repeat itself... it’s perhaps that much more likely that COVID’s variants will overtake H1N1 as the most common form of the seasonal flu.
Photo Credit: Getty Images