02 February 2020

How deadly is 2019-nCoV?: a century long perspective

A century ago, February 1920, saw the fourth and final wave of the influenza pandemic best known for the second wave in the fall of 1918.

The bar chart shows the peak in deaths that occurred in February 1920 in both the deaths in Canada in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database and in Ontario Civil Registration database available on Ancestry.ca. The figures are normalized to account for the number of days in the month and the total number of deaths in each database for the two-year period.

There are 20 deaths in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery burial register for February 1920 where the cause of death is influenza, that's not including those attributed solely to pneumonia. Will the total number of deaths from 2019-nCoV reach that many in Canada?

1 comment:

Rick Roberts, GlobalGenealogy.com said...

Using recorded cause of death for the purpose of statistical analysis can be tricky because of the potential for mis-diagnosis by the attending physician. It is often the only data we have, but it needs to be considered with caution, and weighed against other facts.

Sandra's maternal great grandmother, and her great aunt, and her great aunt's husband's deaths on October 12th & 10th, 11th, 1918 had cause of death recorded as "pneumonia". Sandra's maternal great grandmother went to stay at her daughter's home to nurse her sick family. She also fell ill while there. The three deaths over 3 days left the surviving five children without parents and grandmother.

Spanish Flu was acknowledged by authorities to be in Toronto a few days earlier, on Sept 29, 1918, though much of the city was sick with it by then. We strongly suspect that Annie Eliza Cansdale-Lester and Annie Selina Lester-Martin and William James Martin were three early victims of Spanish Flu in Toronto. With that said, it is hard to know which of the deaths with recorded cause of death by pneumonia or other ailments during the Fall of 1918 in Toronto, were actually caused by the Spanish Flu.

Spanish Flu affected most families. My father's family was living in Toronto during late 1918 and early 1919. My father was 5 and his brother John was 7. They both got very sick with high fevers and flu symptoms but were never officially diagnosed. My father made a full recovery. However his brother John came out of it completely deaf and remained so for the rest of his life. Dad talked about how there were quarantine notices placed on the doors of the sick, and that on some mornings, vehicles (he said wagons) went through the neighborhood picking up the dead.