Is COVID-19 deadlier than other viruses?

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 17 2021 10:20 PM | Updated as of Apr 18 2021 02:05 AM

A doctor comforts a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on November 26, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Go Nakamura, Getty Images, AFP

The global death toll from COVID-19 passed three million on Saturday, with the pandemic already having killed more people than most other viral epidemics of the 20th and 21st centuries.

But there have been notable exceptions. The post-World War I Spanish Flu wiped out 50 million people, according to some estimates. And over the decades AIDS, caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has killed 33 million.

Here are some comparisons:

FLU EPIDEMICS

In 2009, the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, caused a global pandemic and left an official death toll of 18,500.

This was later revised upwards by The Lancet medical journal to between 151,700 and 575,400 dead.

That brings it close to seasonal flu, which accounts for between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the 20th century, two major non-seasonal flu pandemics -- Asian flu in 1957-1958 and Hong Kong flu in 1968-1970 -- each killed around one million people, according to counts carried out afterwards.

The greatest catastrophe of modern pandemics to date, the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 also known as Spanish flu, wiped out some 50 million people according to research published in the 2000s.

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OTHER VIRAL EPIDEMICS

The death toll from COVID-19, which emerged in central China in late 2019, is far higher than that of the haemorrhagic fever Ebola, which was first identified in 1976.

In four decades, periodic Ebola outbreaks have killed some 15,000 people, all in Africa.

Ebola has a far higher fatality rate than COVID-19: around 50 percent of people who are infected die from it.

But Ebola is less contagious than other viral diseases, namely because it is not airborne but transmitted through direct and close contact.

AIDS is by far the most deadly modern epidemic: almost 33 million people around the world have died of the disease, which affects the immune system.

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No effective vaccine has been found, but retroviral drugs, when taken regularly, efficiently stop the illness in its tracks and heavily reduce the risk of contamination.

This treatment has helped bring down the death toll from its peak in 2004 of 1.7 million deaths to 690,000 in 2019, according to UNAIDS.

The hepatitis B and C viruses also have a high death toll, killing some 1.3 million people every year, most often in poor countries.

In 2002-2003, COVID's predecessor SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that emerged from China was the first coronavirus to spark global fears, but killed just 774 people in the final toll.

THREE MILLION EQUALS?

As a matter of comparison, the figure of three million people represents a little bit more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia.

It is also three times the toll of the Iran-Iraq war which raged from 1980-1988, or 2,000 times more than the 1,500 who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Over the past month, more than 10,000 people have died every day from the coronavirus.

It is as many as the 10,000 children who die every day from hunger around the world, according to the UN.

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