top of page

How Does COVID-19 Stack Up Against The Spanish Flu?

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

by Caitlin Wilson

It has been over a century since the last global pandemic took the world by storm. Of course, almost no one alive today would be old enough to remember the last pandemic in our history, making it difficult to compare it with the most recent pandemic: COVID-19. However, it is important to look to the past to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes with COVID-19 as we did with the Spanish Flu. To do this, we need to go back to 1918 when the Spanish Flu crippled the world like COVID-19 is doing today and compare the two’s effects.

In comparing the Spanish Flu and COVID-19, the two are seemingly very similar in their high infection rates. The Spanish Flu became the deadliest pandemic in history. It took around 20 to 50 million victims in its wake and infected about 500 million. As of right now, there have been a reported 38 million cases and over 1 million deaths in regards to COVID-19. These numbers, although certainly tragic, are a mere blip when compared to the Spanish Flu. This is most likely the result from a lack of effective medication in 1918.

Nevertheless, today, with the use of antibiotics and other medicines, we can manage most symptoms associated with COVID-19, a step up in the ladder from the Spanish Flu. Furthermore, both viruses are alike in that they target the respiratory system. The steps taken to quell the pandemic share a likeness too. During the Spanish Flu, a quarantine similar to the one today was put in place. For both pandemics, businesses, schools, and the movies were shut down. And as a result, the economies of both time periods took a major hit. Also, during both pandemics, laws were set in place ensuring that people wore masks. The rules in 1918 were actually a little harsher, as they even banned spitting.

Even as the similarities between COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu show some resemblance, their differences are much more influential in their results. Starting with the origins of the pandemics, a clear distinction can be made. Although, while both seem to have a definite location for the first known case, it is up for debate where the viruses came from. The Spanish Flu was believed to have originated at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 11, 1918, where the first case was identified. Most scientists think that soldiers infected with the Spanish Flu carried it overseas during World War I, and that this is how the spread began. Unlike the Spanish Flu, COVID-19 is thought to have originated in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. It is not 100% known how the first person became infected, but it is believed that the virus has zoonotic origins. Another difference between the two pandemics is the effects on those infected. The Spanish Flu struck down many young, healthy people who should have been more resistant to the illness. Now, this is not to say that COVID-19 can not harm a healthy person, but in general, the Spanish Flu took a heavier toll on young adults.

Now that you have seen this comparison between the Spanish Flu and COVID-19, I think it is safe to say that there are a lot of topics of interest that we still do not know about COVID-19. For instance, will there be a second wave like there was with the Spanish Flu? Will we ever and how long will it take to find a vaccine? When will quarantine end? Will life going forward ever be the same as it was previously? And to these questions, the only truthful answer that one could give you is, we will have to wait to find out just as the people of 1918 did with the Spanish Flu.


bottom of page