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How long was the 1918 flu pandemic?

The 1918 flu pandemic began in January 1918 and lasted until the summer of 1919, a span of about 18 months.  But the virulent strain of the flu virus stuck around until the end of 1920, more than two years since it first appeared.  

The pandemic—caused by an H1N1 flu virus—killed as many as 50 million people including 675,000 Americans.  The mortality rate was about 10%.  

Despite a rapid global spread in early 1918, it wasn’t until late summer that the worst of the pandemic started in the U.S. Deaths came quickly and in huge numbers. In Philadelphia, the majority of the city’s 12,000 deaths happened in a single six-week period in the fall of 1918. 

We don’t know yet what the trajectory of the COVID-19 will look like. Is the worst right now or still ahead? Now that President Trump has amended the nation’s distancing guidelines to run until at least April 30, it’s tempting to think that will be the “end” of this pandemic. But looking to history as an indicator, the end is likely months away.

Sources: CDC, Live Science, History.com, WHO, U.S. Army, National Institutes of Health


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