Fact Check: This Meme Is NOT Correct: COVID-19 Is Deadlier Than The Seasonal Flu

Fact Check

  • by: Alexis Tereszcuk

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: This Meme Is NOT Correct: COVID-19 Is Deadlier Than The Seasonal Flu Old Numbers

Is this meme correct in saying COVID-19 is less deadly than what was known as Spanish flu a century ago, or current variants of seasonal flu? No, that is misleading: COVID-19 is killing more people annually than the seasonal flu did in the years prior to COVID and the CDC has declared COVID more deadly. A meme from mid-2020 going viral again misleads with outdated information on the total number of global deaths from COVID and falsely implies that the seasonal flu deaths by percentage of the population are more deadly than the coronavirus. A study published in JAMA Network Open says mortality from COVID, pre-vaccines, in the first two months of the pandemic in New York City was at least comparable to mortality from the Spanish flu, despite the overall mortality numbers from the 1918 influenza pandemic being larger.

The claim appeared as an Instagram post on January 17, 2022. It opened:

Things that make you go hmmmm:

This is what the post looked like on Instagram on January 18, 2022:

image (48).png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Tue Jan 18 19:59:31 2022 UTC)

When it asks "How big is 1%?" the meme implies that the global shutdowns over COVID were an overreaction.
Let's break down the claims:

SPANISH FLU
1918 - Spanish Flu - 50 million dead
1918 - World Pop. - 950 million
1918 - 5.26% worlds pop died Experts: TRAGIC EVENT!

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are that 50 million people died in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, from what was popularly known as Spanish flu. However, according to Our World In Data, the population of the world in 1918 was 1.8 billion, not 950 million. That is a death rate of 2.77%, not 5.26% of the world's population. The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported the death rate for the Spanish flu was more than 2.5%.

A study published in JAMA Network Open in August 2020 titled, "Comparison of Estimated Excess Deaths in New York City During the COVID-19 and 1918 Influenza Pandemics," noted the mortality rate of COVID-19, pre-vaccines, was at least comparable to mortality from the so-called Spanish flu:

These findings suggest that the mortality associated with COVID-19 during the early phase of the New York City outbreak was comparable to the peak mortality observed during the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

Another claim from the post:

SEASONAL FLU
2018 - Seasonal Flu - 650,000 dead
2018 - World Pop. - 7.5 billion
2018 - .009% worlds pop died! Experts: TYPICAL YEAR

According to the World Health Organization, "Up to 650 000 deaths annually are associated with respiratory diseases from seasonal influenza, according to new estimates by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC), the World Health Organization and global health partners." The World Bank estimates the Earth's population in 2018 at 7.60 billion. Based on those accounts, numbers in the meme are close to accurate.

Another claim:

COVID-19
2020 - COVID 19 - 488,729 dead and counting
2020 - World Pop. - 7.7 billion(est)
2020 - .006% worlds pop has died Experts: THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END, SHUT DOWN ALL BUSINESS, CLOSE THE CHURCHES, RUIN THE WORLDS ECONOMY!!!

These numbers are misleading and outdated. The deaths in the world from COVID in 2020 were approximately 1.8 million according to the WHO. The global population was 7.76 billion. The death rate was 0.023%, not .006%, globally from COVID in 2020.

Deaths in the United States from COVID in 2020 were approximately 385,453, according to the CDC. As Lead Stories has previously reported, in 2020, COVID killed five times as many Americans as die of flu in even a severe U.S. flu season, in which as many as 60,000 Americans have died in years past.

The meme questions the lockdown methods during the pandemic, claiming that the number of deaths doesn't nearly reach a level where there should be a panic about the virus:

1% of the Worlds Pop right now would be 77 million dead. Now if 5.26% is TRAGIC and .009 is NO BIG DEAL, what the HELL are we doing!

While the meme's numbers do not accurately reflect the true death rate from COVID in 2020, they also do not take into account that COVID spreads more quickly and is more contagious than the seasonal flu, as the CDC reported:

While the virus that causes COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread in similar ways, the virus that causes COVID-19 is generally more contagious than flu viruses. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreading events than flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people and result in continual spreading among people as time progresses.

Updates:

  • 2022-01-19T02:06:01Z 2022-01-19T02:06:01Z
    CORRECTION: This headline and fact-check have been revised to reflect the conclusion we can make about what is known in January 2022 about the relative mortality rates of COVID-19, Spanish flu and seasonal flu.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Alexis Tereszcuk

Alexis Tereszcuk is a writer and fact checker at Lead Stories and an award-winning journalist who spent over a decade breaking hard news and celebrity scoop with RadarOnline and Us Weekly.

As the Entertainment Editor, she investigated Hollywood stories and conducted interviews with A-list celebrities and reality stars.  

Alexis’ crime reporting earned her spots as a contributor on the Nancy Grace show, CNN, Fox News and Entertainment Tonight, among others.

Read more about or contact Alexis Tereszcuk

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