In a time where the coronavirus is currently causing a world wide pandemic. In January, 2009, a novel strain of the H1N1 virus (labelled H1N1-pdm09 which became more popularly known as Swine Flu) emerged, creating a pandemic that lasted 19 months and killing as many as 632,833 people worldwide, according to official estimates.
Very much like the COVID-19 situation, there was no immunity or vaccine at the start of the outbreak, which caused widespread panic.
The first the case of the Swine Flu was detected in Mexico, after which the virus went on to infect 24 percent of the world’s population. While there is no definite figure, the Center for Disease Control and Protection estimated that 151,700-575,400 people worldwide died from H1N1 infection during the first year the virus circulated.
In the United States alone, the CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases, with 12,469 deaths. Unlike the coronavirus, the disease was more deadly for younger demographics. It was estimated that 80 percent of H1N1 victims worldwide were younger than 65 years of age.
Thankfully, after a vaccine was released in December, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) was finally able to announce the end of the pandemic ten months later in August 2010.
Ironically, health experts had warned that a new global pandemic would inevitably emerge in the not-so-distant future resulting in a much deadlier virus. And so their predictions have finally become a reality a decade later as the world struggles to deal with the unprecedented social, health and economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
H1N1 vs COVID-19, which one is more dangerous?
So how do the numbers compare to date, bearing in mind, of course, the WHO is still a long way off announcing an end to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently there are 58,873,368 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,392,066 deaths. At the end of the 2009/10 Swine Flu pandemic, confirmed cases and deaths from H1N1 stood at 1.6 million and 18,448, respectively. However, as aforementioned, the estimations are much higher, suggesting that the current coronavirus figures could also be a long way off the reality.
According to recent comments made by the Director General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the coronavirus is ten times deadlier than the swine flu outbreak a decade ago.
“We know that Covid-19 spreads fast and we know that it is deadly – ten times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic. We know that the virus can spread more easily in crowded environments like nursing homes. We know that early case finding, testing, isolating, caring for every case, and tracing every contact is essential for stopping transmission.
“We know that in some countries cases are doubling every three to four days. However while Covid-19 accelerates very fast it decelerates much more slowly.
“In other words the way down is much slower than the way up. That means control measures must be lifted slowly and with control”.
And while the focus remains on curbing the spread of coronavirus over the coming months through social distancing and other control measures, it must be remembered that the H1N1 virus that emerged in 2009 continues to circulate as a seasonal flu virus, causing illness, hospitalization, and deaths worldwide every year.
The US Centre for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) estimated that 150, 000 to 575,000 people died from (H1N1) pandemic virus infection in the first year of the outbreak.
80% of the virus-related deaths were estimated to occur in those < 65 years of age. In seasonal influenza epidemics, about 70% to 90% of deaths occur in people ≥65.
However, typical seasonal influenza causes most of its deaths among the elderly while other severe cases occur most commonly in people with a variety of medical conditions.
By contrast, this H1N1 pandemic caused most of its severe or fatal disease in younger people, both those with chronic conditions as well as healthy persons, and caused many more cases of viral pneumonia than is normally seen with seasonal influenza.
On the other hand, An analysis of countries and US states or major cities with COVID-19 deaths as of today reports that individuals aged <65 accounts for less than 10% of all COVID-19 deaths.
People <65 years old had 34- to 73-fold lower risk than those ≥65 years old in the European countries
People aged < 65 had 13- to 15-fold lower risk in New York City, Louisiana and Michigan.
The WHO further stated that older people are at highest risk: over 95% of deaths occurred in those > 60 years. More than 50% of all deaths were people > 80 years or older.