Updated: How Long The 1918 Pandemic Lasted & What It Suggests

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Updated: How long the 1918 Pandemic lasted & what it suggests about this one

Bottom Line: Florida currently has the fewest population adjusted COVID-19 cases in the country. In fact, just on Monday we had our first day with fewer than a thousand new cases in a day since June. Last year. That’s to say that something’s starting to feel different about this decline in cases. The question is, are we about there yet? While we don’t know exactly when this pandemic will end, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. From the onset of the pandemic, I’ve studied and observed the 1918 pandemic. History has a way of repeating itself. It’s been several months since I discussed the timeline and where we might be should this play out a similar way. Let’s revisit. 

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 were 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 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. In Florida, the pandemic began in March of last year. That means we’re now at least 20 months into this pandemic. If history roughly held, we’d be in for another surge of sorts this winter, along with the traditional flu season as most experts are predicting, though by the end of the traditional flu season – around April, we’d be on the other side of the pandemic.

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, it increasingly looks like the more things change the more they stay the same. Given the proclivity for history to repeat itself... it’s also likely that COVID’s variants will overtake H1N1 as the most common form of the seasonal flu.

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