Did H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic infect more people in 2009 than COVID-19 in 2020?

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A tweet shared on August 29 contains information implying that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer fatalities and infections compared to the H1N1 pandemic – also known as Swine Flu – that occurred in 2009.

The tweet argues that 180,000 American deaths from COVID-19 are “an amazingly good job” in comparison to the H1N1 virus that supposedly “infected 61 million people” and “killed more than 3 million people”.

Background

Just like COVID-19, Swine Flu is a respiratory disease. The two diseases have similar flu-like symptoms such as coughing, fever and running nose. They are however caused by different viruses.

The H1N1 virus, which is caused by various types and strains of Influenza Viruses started in Mexico and was declared a global pandemic on June 11, 2009. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General announced the end of the H1N1 pandemic on August 10, 2010.

COVID-19 is, on the other hand, caused by the novel 2019 coronavirus, which is a new virus that, according to the WHO, was “unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019”. The WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhonam declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11.

Verification

As of August 31, WHO records indicate that there have been 25,085,685 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world and 843,927 deaths. This is in 9 months since the virus broke out in December 2019.

In comparison, the H1N1 virus had reportedly killed 105,000 to 395,000 people according by the time it was no longer regarded as a pandemic – a period of over 15 months – according to the WHO.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there were 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the United States due to the H1N1 virus.

However, there is no record either by WHO or CDC indicating the total number of people that had been infected with the H1N1 virus globally.

CDC discontinued reporting individual cases of the H1N1 virus because they could not represent the true extent of the outbreak. The WHO, on October 2011, issued a statement indicating that it was working in partnership with the CDC and the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research to produce estimates for the number of cases and deaths during the H1N1 pandemic.

Based on the claim shared on Twitter, there are indeed about 180,000 fatalities in the United States due to COVID-19. WHO records indicate that 181,689 Americans had died because of COVID-19 as of August 31. There are also roughly 61 million Americans who were infected by the H1N1 virus based on the CDC report indicating that there were 60.8 million cases in America.

However, the claim that the H1N1 virus killed 3 million people is false. Based on the preliminary reports, the CDC indicated that 12,469 Americans died from the H1N1 virus. Globally, WHO preliminary reports indicate that up to 395,000 people died of the H1N1 virus.

The tweet’s remarks that “180k is an amazingly good job” also implies that the H1N1 virus was worse than COVID-19 is. On the contrary, the WHO Director-General on April 13 warned that COVID-19 is ten times deadlier than the H1N1 virus.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads fast, and we know that it is deadly – 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic,” he said.

According to an article on USA Today, claims that the H1N1 virus was more severe than COVID-19 are not conclusive, considering that COVID-19 has killed more than 13 times the number of people (Americans) than H1N1 killed in its first year.

Verdict

A tweet claiming that the 2009 H1N1 pandemic infected and killed more people than COVID-19 is MISLEADING.

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Linda Ngari