Parallels between COVID-19 And The Spanish Flu

COVID-19 is the most talked topic in the world right now and in the wake of the same the Spanish flu or H1N1 flu virus which caused the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century has come to light.

In this article, we are going to explore the similarities between the Spanish flu and COVID-19 and what we can learn from it.


Origins of Spanish flu
Source: Earth.ORG

Though the place of origin of the Spanish flu is unknown (no it didn’t originate in Spain), the Spanish newspapers were the first to speak of it openly since their then king- King Alfonso XIII was gravely affected by it; hence the name Spanish flu. Spain was pretty neutrally affected by the pandemic but the name of the deadly pandemic gives the wrong impression that Spain was badly hit.

It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin.

The same way the structure of COVID-19- As per study conducted in Scripps Research Institute-

 “Differs from the already known coronaviruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins.”

Source: The Intercept

COVID -19 originated in China around November 2019 and with the number of cases surging each day worldwide, we can’t really predict how long it will last. The Spanish flu is said to have originated in January 1918 and lasted till December 1920.

From this we can estimate that the present situation may take around 2 years to settle or maybe more given the present population count or less if a vaccine is developed with the medical and technological advancements.

The Effect

Like the COVID-19, Spanish flu spread worldwide. There was no vaccine available and it ended up claiming lives of an estimated count of 50 million, leaving 500 million, about one-third of the world population, infected all over the world.

Spanish Flu Epidemic
Source: BBC

Europe then, like today, was one of the worst-hit continents where many countries reported multiple casualties.

Not only Europe, India suffered on a large scale itself. In India, Spanish flu had affected as many as 12 million people. Then, this mystery disease is suspected to have sneaked in through the docks of Bombay. Shutters were closing down, workshops were closed, people were taking leaves all of a sudden… it was just three months after the first cases were reported; the healthcare system broke down and people were asked to organize ‘self-help’- which is now social distancing,  quarantine, isolation, masks, sanitizers etc. Spanish flu in India killed around 18 million people in the country and infected countless- including the likes of Munshi Premchand and Gandhi.

COVID-19 and flu
Image credit: MarketWatch

Judging by the present circumstances, we can say that we were not prepared for a pandemic like this and even after 100 years, the healthcare system is still broken.

The worst affected due to COVID- 19 are people over 50 years of age. Whereas during the Spanish flu the worst affected were the youngsters. What made the older population so resilient towards the flu? Research suggests they had grown immune to flu during the Russian flu of 1889-90.


What makes both these epidemics so scary and destructive are their symptoms which could be mistaken for common cold and hence, making it difficult for the infected person to figure out what actually is the case.

During the first wave of the Spanish flu, the reported symptoms were chills, fever and fatigue, usually recovered after several days. COVID-19 patients report symptoms like dry cough, fever and fatigue, somewhat similar to the above and they could recover within a few weeks of proper care.

COVID-19 and Spanish flu symptoms

However, the second wave of Spanish flu reported very different symptoms-

“Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate,” as reported by

As famously stated- the person could arrive healthy for breakfast and be dead by dinner…

What else…?

after effects of Spanish flu
Source: History

During the Spanish flu, it was observed that countries tried to suppress information about the outbreak. The internet has made the world a global village- miscommunication is hardly a possibility, but even now, countries have been accused of hiding and miscommunicating information.

The Spanish flu occurred in multiple waves – conditions deteriorating with every wave. We are yet to pass the first wave but there are already rounds in the media about the second wave- which is extremely concerning- we don’t have enough medical facilities, the economy is smoking up and much else.

Amid so much negativity, we can find positivity in the fact that the pollution levels are under control and nature is taking back its space. We see humanity coming together to support each other and help spread a positive vibe.

Read about diseases that can transform you into a superhero!

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