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COVID killed as many Americans as the 1918-19 flu

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COVID-19 has now killed as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic — about 675,000.

The population of the United States a century ago was only one-third of its current population. In short, influenza is much larger and less deadly across the country. However, the COVID-19 crisis was a huge tragedy in itself, especially given the tremendous advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to make the most of the vaccines available this time.

“A big pocket in American society, and worse, their leaders have thrown it away,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, who has vaccinated all qualified people to date. I mentioned the opportunity to do it.

Rustom Antia, a biologist at Emory University, said, “I hope it’s going to be like catching a cold, but there’s no guarantee,” suggesting an optimistic scenario that could happen over the years. increase.

For now, the pandemic remains a solid support for the United States and other parts of the world.

Although the surge in new infections from Delta fuels may have peaked, U.S. deaths still average above 1,900 per day, the highest level since early March and on Monday. As of noon, the country’s total casualties were just over 674,000. Data collected by Johns Hopkins University, but the actual numbers are believed to be higher.

Winter could bring a new surge, the University of Washington’s influential model predicts an additional 100,000, Americans will die of COVID-19 by January 1, and the entire United States The number of victims is 776,000.

The 1918-19 influenza pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide when the world’s population was one-quarter of what it is today. The number of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 currently exceeds 4.6 million.

The number of deaths from the common cold in the United States is a rough guess given the incomplete records of that era and the lack of scientific understanding of what caused the illness. The 675,000 numbers are from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decline of COVID-19 can occur when the virus gradually weakens as it mutates and more and more human immune systems learn to attack the virus. Vaccination and surviving infections are the main ways the immune system improves. Breast-fed babies also get some immunity from their mothers.

Under that optimistic scenario, school children will get a mild illness that trains their immune system. As they grow up, children have a memory of the immune response, so when they are old and vulnerable, the coronavirus is less dangerous than the cold virus.

The same is true for today’s vaccinated teens. Their immune system will be strengthened by firing and mild infection.

“We will all be infected,” Antia predicted. “The important thing is whether the infection is severe.”

The same thing happened with the H1N1 influenza virus, which caused the 1918-19 pandemic. Too many people have immunity and have been weakened by mutations. H1N1 is still prevalent today, but the immunity gained through infection and vaccination has been victorious.

Vaccination against influenza every year can protect you from H1N1 and several other influenza strains. Sure, influenza kills 12,000 to 61,000 Americans each year, but on average it’s a seasonal and manageable problem.

Prior to COVID-19, the 1918-19 flu was considered the worst pandemic disease in human history worldwide. It is unclear whether the current tragedy will ultimately prove deadly.

In many respects, the 1918-19 flu (misnamed the Spanish flu because it was first widely reported in Spain) was exacerbated.

Spread by the mobility of World War I, it killed a huge number of young and healthy adults. There was no vaccine to delay it, and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. And of course, the world was much smaller.

Still, jet movements and mass movements can increase the number of victims of the current pandemic. Much of the world is unvaccinated. And the coronavirus was full of surprises.

Markel said he was constantly amazed at the magnitude of the turmoil that the pandemic brought to Earth.

Mr. Markel was “surprised by the size of the quarantine station,” the Chinese government first launched. “Since then, I’ve been gobu-gobu-gobu-smacked up to n times,” he said. The slow pace of US vaccination is the latest source of his surprise.

Just under 64% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated at least once, with state percentages ranging from up to about 77% in Vermont and Massachusetts to at least about 46% in Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Mississippi. In the range of 49%. ..

According to Our World in Data, about 43% of the world’s population receives at least one dose, and some African countries have just begun their first dose.

Dr. Jeremy Brown, Head of Emergency Medical Research at the National Institutes of Health, who wrote the book on influenza, said: “They can do terrible things while they are angry.”

COVID-19 would not have been much more deadly in the United States if more people had been vaccinated earlier. “Still, there is an opportunity to turn it around,” Brown said. Naturally. “

Current vaccines are very effective in preventing serious illness and death from previously emerging viral variants.

According to Antia, it is important for scientists to make sure that the constantly changing virus has not changed enough to evade the vaccine or cause serious illness in unvaccinated children.

If the virus changes significantly, a new vaccine using the technology behind Pfizer and Moderna’s shots could be produced in 110 days, Pfizer executives said Wednesday. The company is studying whether annual injections with current vaccines are needed to keep immunity high.

Plus: Coronavirus mutates at a slower pace than influenza virus, making it a more stable target for vaccination, said Anne Marie Kimball, a former epidemiology professor at the University of Washington.

So will the current pandemic leave the 1918-19 influenza pandemic as the worst in human history?

“You want to say no. Infection control has been greatly enhanced and the ability to support sick people has been greatly improved. We have modern medicine,” Kimball said. “But we have more people and more mobility …. the fear is that eventually new strains will evade certain vaccine targets.”

“The problem is that we have to survive the infection to get immunity,” Kimball said to unvaccinated individuals who rely on infections rather than vaccinations for immune protection. Stated. She said it was easier to go to a drugstore and take a shot.

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Tom Murphy, AP Health Writer, Indianapolis, contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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