‘We’ve had a couple of people BTL take issue with us regarding the case fatality rate (CFR) of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Citing Wikipedia and the CDC we gave that rate as being between 10-20%. A couple of commenters, however, insisted the actual CFR was 2-3%, and this led us to look further.
What we found was quite interesting.
This is the pre-February 22 2020 opening paragraph of the ‘Mortality’ section on the Wiki page for the Spanish flu (our emphasis):
The global mortality rate from the 1918–1919 pandemic is not known, but an estimated 10% to 20% of those who were infected died (case-fatality ratio). About a third of the world population was infected, and 3% to 6% of the entire global population of over 1800 million died.
This is how the same paragraph reads now:
It is estimated that one third of the global population was infected, and the World Health Organization estimates that 2–3% of those who were infected died (case-fatality ratio).
That’s quite a big change in a pretty short time.
What’s going on? Why is the CFR suddenly being downgraded so dramatically?
The WHO report they use as a source is not about the Spanish Flu, but simply mentions it in passing. It does indeed say 2-3% of those infected died, but gives no source for this, and also claims this represents 20-50 million people.
The trouble with that is the higher range of this estimate (50 million as 2% of total cases) gives a figure of 2.5 billion total cases. Which is higher than the entire population of the world at the time!(1.8 billion).
So something is clearly amiss.
Worse still, the WHO is the only source we have found so far that claims a death toll of 20 million. Most sources, such as the CDC (and see here), broadly agree that between 50 million and 100 million people died of the Spanish Flu (although one recent study wildly differs, see below). In order for 50-100 million deaths to be 2-3% of total cases there would have had to be 2.5 billion – 5 billion cases.
Obviously totally impossible.’
Read more: Wikipedia Slashes Spanish Flu Death Rate