Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested recently that the COVID-19 outbreak has the potential to approach the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in terms of seriousness while expressing hopes that the administration’s interventions would prevent such an outcome.
Fauci made the remarks during a Georgetown University Global Health Initiative webinar on Tuesday, during which he called the COVID-19 outbreak a “pandemic of historic proportions.”
“The numbers are quite sobering. We’ve had over 135,00 deaths in this pandemic for the United States. We have over 3 million cases. If you look globally, there’s close to 600,000 deaths and about 13 or 14 million infections. So this is a pandemic of historic proportions, we can’t deny that fact,” Fauci said.
“It’s something that, when history looks back on it, will be comparable to what we saw in 1918,” he added, referring to the influenza pandemic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “the most severe pandemic in recent history.” It is estimated that around 500 million, or around one-third of the world’s population at the time, became infected with the disease, which was caused by the H1N1 virus of avian origin.
“Right now if you look at the magnitude of the 1918 pandemic where anywhere from 50 to 75 to 100 million people globally died, I mean that was the mother of all pandemics and truly historic,” Fauci continued.
“I hope we don’t even approach that with this, but it does have the makings of the possibility of … approaching that in seriousness,” Fauci compared the two outbreaks, adding, “though I hope that the kinds of interventions that we’re going to be, and are implementing would not allow that to happen.”
Fauci also noted two similarities between the 1918 pandemic and the COVID-19 outbreak is that both were caused by new viruses that made the leap to humans from animals, and then easily spread between people.
“It had two characteristics that make it the perfect storm,” Fauci said of the 1918 outbreak. “That is a virus that jumps species, but that almost immediately has an extraordinarily capable and efficient way of spreading from human to human, simultaneously with having a considerable degree of mortality.”
“It is not serious for some people,” Fauci said of COVID-19, adding, “but deadly serious for others.”
According to the CDC, of all 121,374 deaths reported thus far to the National Center for Health Statistics involving COVID-19 in the United States, around 97,000 have been among people older than 65. Those aged 85 or older accounted for 40,125 of COVID-19 fatalities, while those under 35 accounted for just 1,032 deaths.
Fauci said that while symptomatic infection rates among young people are lower, he urged them to wear masks to protect more vulnerable populations because even if young people are at a lower risk of getting sick, they can still spread the deadly bug to others.
“What they need to understand is that, given the nature of the outbreak, even if you get infected and have no symptoms and never get sick, you are inadvertently propagating the pandemic,” Fauci said of young people who are healthy and “don’t mind sipping my margarita in a crowd.”
“It may not matter to you because you are probably not going to get any symptoms, but chances are you will infect someone who will then infect someone who will be a vulnerable person who can get sick, who can get hospitalized, who can even die,” he added.
“Not only are you propagating the outbreak, but you are putting other people in danger,” Fauci said, urging young people to think about their “societal responsibility” and take precautions like wearing masks.
“You not caring whether you get infected or not is not a good way to get the outbreak under control,” he said.
“I am not blaming anyone. I think people do this innocently. They don’t mean to be part of the problem but, inadvertently, they are part of the problem,” he said.