Fact Check: Trump wildly exaggerates Spanish Flu mortality rate

The President pushed back on comparisons between the coronavirus pandemic and the 1918 pandemic commonly called the “Spanish Flu.” He said, “You can’t compare this to 1918 where close to 100 million people died. That was a flu, a little different. That was a flu where if you got it you had a 50/50 chance, or very close, of dying.”

Facts First: Trump is exaggerating. Though estimates of the mortality rate for the 1918 flu pandemic vary widely since records from that period are incomplete, there are not any credible estimates as high as 50%. Scholars estimate the mortality rate is between about 2% and 20%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 50 million people worldwide died from the H1N1 virus in 1918 and 1919, out of the approximately 500 million people who were infected.
A 2006 study published in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal puts the number of deaths from the virus between 50 and 100 million, for a mortality rate of 10-20%.
Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who worked with the World Health Organization to help eradicate smallpox, told CNN he thinks Trump is off by “10 times” when it comes to the mortality rate of the 1918 pandemic.

“Net, net you can find credible death rate estimates from 2-10 percent,” Dr. Brilliant said. “Either way that is a far cry from 50 percent.”


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