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Deaths in New York City during the coronavirus wave are reminiscent of the peak of the 1918 flu pandemic

The relative increase in deaths in the early period of the Covid-19 pandemic was actually significantly greater than in the peak of the 1918 pandemic, according to the study published Thursday in the JAMA Network Open.

“The big pick-up is that when we compare what happened, we find that the magnitude of changes in deaths – as well as how big a shock to the system this is – these pandemics are very similar,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “In fact, if you think about it, Covid-19 is a bigger shock to our healthcare system today because we usually only have a lower death rate than we did in 1
918. So Covid-19 is a bigger change from norms for us than 1918. was the flu. “

Faust said by comparing the first two months of the New York pandemic with the worst two months of the New York pandemic 100 years ago, the Covid-19 period had over 70% as many deaths per year. Inhabitant.

“Who knows what would be the case if we did not have modern ICUs and we could not treat secondary infections with antibiotics or put people on fans or had oxygen,” Faust said. “If you compare these viruses side by side, without all the medical bells and whistles we have today, I would say Covid-19 is worse.”

“We will never know for sure, because fortunately we now have the ability to save more lives, but even with all our technology and medical advances, the death rate is 70% as bad as it was at the worst time in 1918, I think , People are not aware of how serious this is, ”Faust said.

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Faust said some people underestimate how bad this pandemic is because they depict a historic pandemic or plague, like something out of a movie where the wagon pulls over on the side of the road and picks up bodies.

“That’s what the refrigerated trucks outside the hospital are, by the way,” Faust said.

The 1918 flu is estimated to have infected a third of the world’s population and caused approximately 50 million deaths. As with this pandemic, it affected some communities more than others.

This study only takes into account data specific to New York City. It cannot be used to characterize the scale of this pandemic in other cities or nationwide. New York was hit hard early in the pandemic, and since then, other cities have learned from what worked early on, experts said.

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John Barry, author of the 2004 book The Great Influenza, said the results of the study were surprising.

Barry, who was not involved in the new study, said from other indicators that he thinks it is clear that the 1918 pandemic was “significantly more virulent” than the Covid-19 pandemic, at least for the country.

“I guess when New York was hit, we did not really know how to handle cases yet. Since then, we have learned a lot more, ”said Barry. “I think New York’s death toll from Covid-19 is likely to be higher … and it’s going to be cut down after the first wave of exposure, but even I was surprised there’s no major difference in those numbers.”

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In terms of deaths, New York fared better than many other cities in 1918, Barry said. The city was exposed to the virus in the spring and saw 33,000 deaths during the pandemic, which was a small number compared to some other cities.

Barry also said with the Covid-19 pandemic that doctors have more options for caring for patients. There is no cure, but even the supportive doctors who deliver patients now are much better than what the patients had in 1918.

“In 1918, supportive care was non-existent,” Barry said.

Faust said what he most wants people to remove from this study is the understanding of exactly how serious this pandemic is.

“We do not have to wait until the end of it to look back and see that these events are similar in size,” Faust said. “What I’m driving home here is that if we do nothing, if we do not take this really seriously, we could very well one year from now look at the same numbers we saw from 1918.”

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