Medical historian compares today’s outbreak to the 1918 flu pandemic

Members of the American Red Cross remove influenza victims in 1918.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In less than nine months, the coronavirus has quickly spread to more than 33 million people across the globe, killing more than 1 million and becoming the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer. 

There is nothing in recent history that compares to a contagious crisis of this magnitude, according to historians who study infectious diseases and disasters. The H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 infected an estimated 60.8 million people in its first year, but the virus wasn’t nearly as severe as Covid-19, killing between 151,700 and 575,400 worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MERS, another coronavirus that emerged in 2012, was much deadlier than Covid but significantly less infectious with only 2,494 reported cases.

Covid-19 is “a

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