Coronavirus death figures in New York has been compared those of the 1918 H1N1 flu epidemic, which killed around 50 million people worldwide, in a new study.
Researchers in the US studied excess mortality – the number of deaths beyond usual conditions – in New York City in the early stages of the US coronavirus pandemic this year. The city quickly became the epicentre of the US virus outbreak in March.
These were then compared with New York excess deaths during the peak of the 1918 flu pandemic.
The researchers found the two numbers were close – albeit with the H1N1 deaths being higher – which they say highlights the severity of the current pandemic.
The study notes: “These findings suggest that the mortality associated with COVID-19 during the early phase of the New York City outbreak was comparable to the peak mortality observed during the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic.”
Jeremy S. Faust, lead author of the study and an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said COVID-19 is comparable to the H1N1 outbreak – “what everyone agrees is the previous worst pandemic.”
The researchers compared the early New York outbreak to the H1N1 outbreak there
However, the study notes there is key limitation in comparing COVID-19 to H1N1 – namely, that healthcare has improved since the start of the century.
The researchers explain: “It is unknown how many deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 infection have been prevented because of modern interventions not widely available a century ago, including standard resuscitation, supplemental oxygen, mechanical ventilation, kidney replacement therapy, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.”
This means COVID-19 may be just as deadly – or even have a “greater mortality” – than the 1918 H1N1 flu virus.
New York was hit hard in the early stages of the pandemic in the US
In addition, the usual number of deaths – referred to as baseline mortality rates – in New York over the last few years have been less than half what they were between 1914 and 1917.
According to the study, this means “the relative increase during early COVID-19 period was substantially greater than during the peak of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic.”
The researchers say they hope their study helps policymakers understand the scale of the coronavirus pandemic.
They said: “We believe that our findings may help officials and the public contextualize the unusual magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to more prudent policies that may help to decrease transmission by decreasing the effective reproduction number of SARS-CoV-2 and prevent the exhaustion of essential supplies of life-saving resources in the coming weeks and beyond.”
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New York governor Andrew Cuomo speaking in July
World Health Organisation graph
For a time, New York was the worst-hit US state in the early stages of the US outbreak – though this is no longer the case.
On August 12, there were at least 706 new cases of coronavirus reported across New York – higher than the average of 641 cases per day over the past week, according to state and local health agencies and hospitals.
This average rate is down five percent from two weeks ago, the New York Times reports.
California is one of many states to have seen a surge in cases over the past month
The state has recorded a total of 428,155 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 32,399 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
For comparison California reported 7,085 new cases of coronavirus on August 12.
Overall, the state has recorded 593,141 positive cases with 10,808 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health.
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