Coronavirus death rate may be as bad – or worse – than for Spanish flu pandemic

Coronavirus death rate may be as bad – or worse – than for Spanish flu pandemic

  • Chinese and US researchers have come up with an estimate of 4.54 per cent using new data and modelling based on the initial outbreak in Wuhan
  • That compares to estimates ranging from 1.61 to 1.98 per cent for the influenza virus over a century ago

The death rate from Covid-19 could be as severe as – or worse than – that of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, new research based on data from the initial outbreak in China suggests.

During the influenza outbreak over a century ago, some 500 million people – or a third of the world population at the time – were infected in about two years. Death toll estimates range from 10 million people to over 50 million.By comparison, the new coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19, has so far infected more than 25 million people and killed nearly 850,000 worldwide.

To compare the death rates, a team of Chinese and American scientists went back to the start of the pandemic, using new data and improved modelling on the first wave in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was first reported late last year.

They put the actual death rate at 4.54 per cent.

“[This] is comparable, if not higher, than that of the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the team led by Yu Hongjie, an epidemiologist at Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote in a non-peer-reviewed paper posted on medRxiv.org on Tuesday.

Estimates of the Spanish flu death rate range from 1.61 per cent to 1.98 per cent.

The researchers sought data from Wuhan because it was the place where the new virus strain was first identified by scientists after patients started turning up at hospitals with pneumonia-like symptoms. That made it an ideal location for a comparison of the death rate from the pandemic in 1918, when there was also limited knowledge and treatment available for the illness caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus.