What The 1918 Pandemic Timeline Suggests About When This One Will End

On March 11th, at the onset of what was referred to as the “4th wave” of COVID-19, I brought you a story regarding the 1918 pandemic’s timeline and compared it to this one. While we don’t know exactly when this pandemic will end, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The 1918 pandemic, caused by the H1N1 virus, coincided with the 1918 flu season. The first identified cases in the US were in January of 1918. Cases slowly grew through the winter, but it wasn’t until Spring when Americans were more inclined to be out and about interacting with one another that the virus really took off. There was a surge in cases in what became referred to as the “Spring Wave”. That wave subsided over the summer but by October, at the onset of the traditional flu season, the virus took off again with the highest numbers of cases to date. That process repeated over the next year, though cases in 1919 were well below 1918’s levels. However, the worst was yet to come. The 1918 pandemic didn’t occur until the winter of 1920 in what was referred to as the fourth and final wave.

The 1918 H1N1 pandemic lasted a total of 26 months before the deadly effects of the virus seemingly ran their course. It included four waves of the virus surging during that time. It’s worth noting that without antivirals, a combination of herd immunity and less severe strains likely led to the end of the pandemic. That’s instructive in the context of where we are with the COVID pandemic. The spread of COVID around the world has mirrored the 1918 pandemic. 

We’re now 17 months into this pandemic and history suggests that even if we didn’t have antivirals, we’d likely have no more than ten months left in the pandemic at this phase. Interestingly, lookdowns have likely prolonged the pandemic using 1918’s example as a guide. We’re replacing natural herd immunity with vaccinations which has led trajectory and timeline that appears near identical to what played out over 100 years ago. 

It's interesting that despite vast differences in medical technology over 103 years ago, at best we’ll have only shaved a handful of months off of the duration. Given the proclivity for history to repeat itself, it’s perhaps that much more likely that COVID’s variants will overtake H1N1 as the most common form of the seasonal flu as well.

Photo by: Getty Images

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