The COVID-19 and Spanish Flu Pandemics, A Century Apart

My wife and I began the new year completing a two-week holiday cruise to Hawaii on the Star Princess, sister ship to the Diamond Princess, returning to Los Angeles on January 3. Our flight home was uneventful. All seemed well. In February, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high (29,551 on Feb 12). Nothing to worry about.

Then came a virus virologists name “SARS-CoV-2” (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus-2) which causes “Covid-19” (Coronavirus disease, beginning in [November?] 2019). On January 20, a man in the Seattle area who had recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China had a fever and dry cough and was found to be infected with Covid-19.


As of April 28, 2020, in the U.S., 1,011,6000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 (Covid) with 58,343 deaths. Pale Rider: The Spanis... Spinney, Laura Best Price: $24.05 Buy New $15.49 (as of 04:12 EDT - Details)

The 1918-1920 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu) killed 675,000 Americans. One of them was my grandmother Mary Ashby Warden Williams. Several weeks before she fell ill and suddenly died, her stepmother, Mary Lyde Hicks Williams (my great grandmother), a professional portrait painter, painted this portrait of Mary Ashby with her 18-month old daughter Charlotte (my mother) standing next to her. Mary Ashby died in January 1920 at the tail end of the pandemic, age 23. Her daughter endures and will be 102 in July.

My wife’s grandmother Agnes Posten, an Irish immigrant, also died in that pandemic, age 26.

More than 30 million Americans had the Spanish Flu in a  population of 105 million and with 675,000 deaths, a 2.3% fatality rate. “Fast forward” to today. The Director-General of the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian politician (and former leader of a terrorist group)—the first non-physician to head this body—declared that Covid-19 has a 3.4% mortality rate. With a rate this high Covid could kill many millions of people worldwide. This spawned a global panic. The Director-General, however, left out people who become infected with this virus, did not get tested and didn’t get sick. Up to 80% of people who test positive for Covid either have no symptoms or only mild ones imitating  a cold. Counting them in the equation, the mortality rate for Covid in Wuhan, China would be closer to 1.4% than 3.4%.

The 1918-20 influenza pandemic killed between 15 and 100 million people worldwide, 0.8% to 5.6% in a population of 1.8 billion (see here). Now, with the population 7.8 billion, one of comparable lethality could kill between 60 to 430 million people.

The “Spanish” flu started in Kansas. It spread in 3 main waves. The first one, from March to June 1918, was relatively mild. Soldiers called it “the 3-day flu.” It was seldom fatal, with a mortality rate near 0.5% (5 deaths in a thousand cases), close to seasonal flu of 0.1%.

The second wave, from August to December, was more lethal. One observer noted, “While the first wave of flu in 1918 was relatively nonlethal, the second made up for it in spades.” Two million American soldiers were shipped to Europe to fight with the Allies (France, Britain, and Russia) in World War I against the Central Powers (Germany and its allies). More soldiers died from the flu than in battle. Laura Spinney, in Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World writes: The Great Influenza: T... Barry, John M. Buy New $13.99 (as of 02:52 EDT - Details)

“[Flu] Patients would soon be having trouble breathing. Two mahogany spots appeared over their cheekbones, and within a few hours that color had flushed their faces from ear to ear… [If it turned blue] the outlook was bleak indeed. Blue darkened to black. The black first appeared at the extremities—the hands and feet, including the nails—stole up the limbs, and eventually infused the abdomen and torso. As long as you were conscious, therefore, you watched death enter at your fingertips and fill you up.”

The Spanish flu targeted healthy young adults. People between age 20 and 40 were the high-risk group. Their robust immune systems would launch a “cytokine storm”—a cellular (macrophage)-induced severe inflammatory reaction, both against the virus and oneself. Flooding one’s lungs, this “storm” could kill a person within 24 hours after the onset of symptoms.

(The nations fighting in World War I censored any mention of this pandemic, which laid waste to both sides. Spain remained neutral and did not censor its newspapers, thus the name “Spanish flu.”)

Debate continues over Covid’s case mortality rate. The number of Covid deaths is falsely high in jurisdictions where people who die with the virus (test positive for Covid) in actuality die from a pre-existing condition (heart disease, cancer) and get included with people who die from the virus. And there are Covid-positive people who remain asymptomatic that are not counted, which also makes the case mortality rate falsely high. To remedy that everyone in a given population must be tested.

After testing positive for Covid one develops antibodies—immune markers in serum indicating prior exposure to a specific pathogen. Antibody tests will capture all previously infected cases, including the asymptomatic ones, thus supplying the correct fraction for calculating the case mortality rate. Controversy currently exists, however, over the sensitivity and specificity of the new antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2. A low specificity yields false positives of supposedly asymptomatic cases, a larger denominator and thus a falsely low case mortality rate.

Elderly people with pre-existing conditions are the high-risk group with Covid; but a growing number of studies show that its overall lethality is lower than initially thought, somewhere between 0.1% and 0.4%, in the seasonal flu range. Most healthy older adults without pre-existing conditions do well and have immune systems strong enough to handle the virus. The Vitamin D Revoluti... Soram Khalsa Best Price: $1.25 Buy New $10.69 (as of 08:00 EST - Details)

The Diamond Princess finished a roundtrip 15-day tour of Southeast Asia from Japan on February 2, 2020. It had 3,711 passengers and crew—2,666 passengers (median age 69) and 1,045 crew (median age 36). Some passengers tested positive for Covid on the cruise, and Japanese authorities quarantined the ship when it docked back at Yokohama—its passengers for up to three weeks and crew, four weeks. Health workers tested almost everyone on board for Covid and found that 712 (19.2%) were infected—567 passengers (21.2%) and 145 crew members (13.8%). There were 14 deaths (0.4%), only in elderly passengers. Analyzing the data from this “ship laboratory,” researchers estimate that the mortality rate from Covid in China is around 0.5%, like in the first wave of the Spanish flu.

SARS-CoV-2 is one of seven coronaviruses. Several of them cause the common cold. Two other dangerous coronaviruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV (“Middle East Respiratory Syndrome”) kill people. The 2002 SARS epidemic caused 770 deaths and the 2015 MERS epidemic, 850 deaths. But they did not come in several waves. The current coronavirus may not come back in a second wave either.

Evidence shows SARS-CoV-2 is bioengineered. A Biosafety Level 4 laboratory in Wuhan, China released this new coronavirus, presumably by accident. Migrating water birds spread the Spanish flu virus to humans.


During the Spanish flu, until the Armistice of November 11, 1918 ended World War I, President Wilson kept the nation fixed on fighting and winning the war. He did not let a worsening influenza pandemic interfere. John Barry, in his The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, writes this about the state of American society in 1918:

“Wilson’s hard line threatened dissenters [against the war] with imprisonment. The federal government also took control over much of national life. The War Industries Board allocated raw materials to factories, guaranteed profits, and controlled production and prices of war material, and, with the National War Labor Board, it set wages as well. The Railroad Administration virtually nationalized the American railroad industry. The Fuel Administration controlled fuel distribution (and to save fuel it also instituted daylight savings time). The Food Administration—under Herbert Hoover—oversaw agricultural production, pricing, and distribution.”

How Not To Die With Tr... Henriques, Tiago Best Price: $18.23 Buy New $17.97 (as of 08:00 EST - Details) Responding to the Covid pandemic, the nation has simply shut down, economically and personally. Computer models greatly overpredicted the deaths it would cause. They predicted that more than two million Americans would die from this infection (even factoring in mitigation), as compared with 30,000 seasonal flu deaths. This prompted government officials to shut down the economy and order people to stay home. Along with its predictions, however, Imperial College modelers did acknowledge this: “We do not consider the ethical or economic implications of either strategy [suppression or mitigation]” (emphasis added).

Adverse consequences from the lockdown on human health and behavior include domestic violence, child abuse, and the risk of suicide, followed by civil unrest and crime waves. These consequences are yet to fully appear and be measured but they will be substantial and likely overshadow Covid deaths. Hospitals have halted “elective” surgeries for people who suffer other diseases. Delaying them also carries risk.

A more unrestricted approach is better. While shielding vulnerable senior citizens, younger people who have a negligible Covid mortality risk should be able to go to work, to restaurants and bars (and church), like in Sweden. People there do go to work, cafes and restaurants are open, and its parks full. The country remains open for business.

Covid-infected people who have mild illness help establish widespread immunity against subsequent and possibly more virulent waves of the infection.


There were no vaccines for the Spanish flu. But vaccine companies a century later are working nonstop to develop one for Covid. But human trials to confidently establish a vaccine’s efficacy and safety take time, 18 months or more. Of note, 93% of vaccine trials fail.

Vaccines for flu viruses have a checkered history. Public health officials had to recall the one made for the 1976 Swine flu when it was found to cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome—immune system damage with slowly progressive paralysis ending in death. Vaccine officials promoted the vaccine Pandemix for the 2009 Swine flu and fast-tracked it without the requisite clinical trials. This vaccine caused narcolepsy—difficulty sleeping at night associated with night terrors, hallucination, and mental health problems. Vitamin D3, Zinc and M... Jeffers, Nancy Best Price: null Buy New $6.98 (as of 03:40 EST - Details)

Lacking a vaccine or an effective antiviral drug against Covid, physicians search for any pharmaceutical agents that might be effective in treating it. The Trump-hating media, notably the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC chastised President Trump for promoting the antimalarial drug chloroquine (hydroxychloroquine) for Covid-19. Long used for treating malaria, hydroxychloroquine prevents single cell malarial parasites from invading red blood cells and eating their hemoglobin. Research shows that SARS-CoV-2 also attacks red blood cells, rendering its hemoglobin incapable of transporting oxygen to the body. An intensive-care physician describes how patients who become seriously ill from Covid suffer more from hypoxia—a lack of oxygen—than from viral/bacterial pneumonia. Covid is more like high altitude sickness (here). The way hydroxychloroquine shields red blood cells from malarial parasites can explain how this drug could also do the same thing against this coronavirus. (See Dr. Dave Janda’s interview with Karen Whitsett, Democratic member of the Michigan House of Representatives on her experience with hydroxychloroquine.) As one blogger sees it, “Covid-19 had us all fooled, but now we might have finally found its secret” (here).

Thirteen years ago I researched and wrote, “Avoid Flu Shots, Take Vitamin D Instead.” It remains relevant, as this March 2020 review of the subject confirms. In one study, 86% of all Covid patients with normal vitamin D levels (30 ng/ml or above) had a mild illness, while 73% of cases that became severe or critical had a vitamin D deficiency (less than 20 ng/ml). Vitamin D switches on genes in immune-system macrophages that make antimicrobial peptides, antibiotics the body produces to attack and destroy invading bacteria and viruses.

Vitamin C given intravenously in high doses is proving to be an effective way to salvage critically ill Covid patients. Zinc, which suppresses virus activity, also helps; but one has to be careful with zinc.

For the Spanish flu some physicians advised patients to take Aspirin, up to 30 grams a day. A dose that high is toxic and can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs—pulmonary edema. Aspirin was a relatively new drug in 1918. (Physicians today consider 60 to 300 milligrams, 0.06 to 0.3 grams, to be the best dose for aspirin.)


Miller’s Review ... Miller, Neil Z. Best Price: $8.32 Buy New $14.48 (as of 04:45 EST - Details) The Covid pandemic has pricked the debt-fueled Everything Bubble and precipitated a Greater Depression. Maintained with multi-trillion-dollar bailouts, it could persist for years, like the Great Depression did. Michael Pento sees it this way: “This [Greater Depression] is a global depression just like we had in the 1930s combined with a 2008 style credit crisis.” Doug Casey: “We’ve entered a downturn that is going to be longer, deeper, and different than the unpleasantness of 1929-1946.” And Jim Quinn: “When ATM machines stop spitting out twenties, food shelves are bare and gas stations are shuttered, social chaos will ensue.” reports that for every Covid death 565 Americans have lost their jobs. And “Nearly one in three Americans have experienced a temporary layoff, permanent job loss, reduction in hours, or reduction of income as a result of the coronavirus situation. Eighteen percent have experienced more than one of these disruptions.” The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates that the unemployment rate in the U.S. could reach 32.1% in the second quarter as 47 million workers are laid off, easily eclipsing the 25% rate during the Great Depression.

In 1918 Americans used gold and silver coins to buy things and pay debts. Paper dollars (Federal Reserve Notes) were redeemable in gold. Federal Reserve Notes today have become a fiat currency and have lost 98% of their original value. Since 1971 the dollar has also fallen 98% in real terms measured in gold. Government’s unlimited printing of dollars will accelerate as more companies and financial institutions default, courting hyperinflation.

The 1920-21 Depression followed the Spanish flu. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 47%, industrial production fell 32%, and corporate profits, 92%. The government did not provide any “fiscal stimulus” to cure this Depression. Tax rates were lowered, the national debt reduced by one-third, and the economy recovered quickly on its own. (See The Forgotten Depression, 1921: The Crash that Cured Itself by James Grant.)

(On April 6, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson caught the Spanish flu in Paris during peace negotiations. He became quite ill, returned home, and four months later had a severe stroke. Without his tempering input, the punitive Treaty of Versailles set the stage for World War II.)

Brave New World

Curing the Incurable: ... Best Price: $12.95 Buy New $44.02 (as of 03:06 EDT - Details) Narrative managers would have Americans live obediently observing Covid shutdown orders. They do not want to see doctors present arguments for lifting the lockdown. After going viral with 5 million views, YouTube deleted the video of two California doctors who support the case that states should begin reopening their economies.

Today Americans are becoming increasingly compelled to live under an authoritarian technocracy, as Whitney Webb describes in “Techno-Tyranny: How the US National Security State is Using Coronavirus to Fulfill an Orwellian Vision.” In order to keep up with China in artificial intelligence, the Covid pandemic is enabling the Pentagon, intelligence community, and Silicon Valley to implement AI mass surveillance systems. They are removing obstacles that have prevented their implementation “under the guise of combating the coronavirus crisis.”

The U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, created by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, cites three “legacy systems” holding back adoption of AI-driven technologies: cash and credit/debit card payments, individual car ownership, and receiving medical attention from a human doctor. In their place would come financial transactions done only with smart phones (and computers), ride-sharing driverless cars, and AI robotic medical care. Plus, authoritarian technocrats would have us stop shopping in stores (many of which are going bankrupt in the lockdown) and buy everything online, enabling them to more easily track our purchases.

The “Spanish” flu occurred in the spring of American imperialism, which started in 1898 with the Spanish-American War and Spain ceding its ownership and control of the Philippines and Guam to U.S. forces. World War I turned the United States into a full-fledged imperial power. Now, sparking the Greater Depression the Covid pandemic arrives in what is becoming winter of American imperialism.

For more on where the country is heading over the next six years, I recommend reading (or rereading) “World War Redux: The Fourth Turning Fourth Time Around.”