A History of pandemics since 20th century

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the noble corona virus outbreak a pandemic. A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a disease. Throughout history, many disease outbreaks have ravaged humanity. Here’s list of some of the major pandemics that have occurred since the 20th century.

  • The Spanish Flu or the 1918 Flue: It was one of the worst pandemics in the history. It killed around 50 million people across the world. Spain was one of the earliest countries where the pandemic was identified. Spain freely published early accounts of the illness as it did not enforce strict censorship of its press unlike other nations as a result people falsely believed the illness was specific to Spain and hence the name Spanish Flu. The Spanish Flu pandemic was caused by an Influenza type A virus known as H1N1. Due to unavailability of vaccine or antibiotics, the control efforts were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as Isolation, Quarantine, Good personal hygiene, Use of disinfectants and Limitations of public gatherings. By the Summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end.
  • The Asian Flu: The Asian Flu was first identified in February 1957 in China and it subsequently spread worldwide. The Asian flu was caused by a virus known as Influenza A subtype H2N2 or Asian flu virus. The virus spread to the United States by June 1957 where it caused about 70,000 deaths around 1 million to 2 million deaths were reported worldwide. With rapid development of a vaccine against H2N2 virus and the availability of antibiotics to treat secondary infections limited the spread and mortality of the pandemic.
  • The Hong Kong Flu: It was a global outbreak of influenza that originated in China in July 1968 and lasted until 1969 to 1970. The Hong Kong Flu was caused by a virus known as Influenza A subtype H3N2, also called Hong Kong flu virus. Although a vaccine was developed against the virus, but it became available only after the pandemic had peaked in many countries. The Hong Kong Flu resulted in an estimated 1 million to 4 million deaths, most excess deaths were in people 65 years and older.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV: It attacks the immune system. Scientists identified a type of Chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. Though HIV arrived in United States around 1970s. It did not come to public’s attention until the early 1980s. Patients who are infected with HIV often died from secondary infections or cancer. Since the 1970s, 75 million people have been infected with HIV and 32 million died. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Now HIV has become a manageable chronic health condition enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.
  • Severe acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS: It appeared in November 2002 in China, it of course by corona virus known as SARS corona virus or SAS COV. SARS highly contagious respiratory illness characterized by a persistent fever, headache and bodily discomfort followed by a dry cough that may progress to great difficulty in breathing. The World Health Organizations has reported 8,096 cases and 774 deaths so far. There’s no specific medication available against the SARS corona virus. The treatment is usually restricted to easing the patient’s symptoms until the illness has run its course. A SARS patient is either quarantined or advice to remain isolated.
  • The H1N1 Flue or Swine Flu: Swine Flu of 2009 was the first major influenza outbreak in 21st century. It was noted for its rapid spread which was facilitated by an unusually high degree of viral contagiousness. The H1N1 influenza virus was first detected in the United States in April 2009. This virus was originally referred to as Swine flu because its gene segments were similar to influenza viruses that were identified in pigs. Scientists developed vaccine to protect humans from H1N1 after the 2009 outbreak. Now there are antiviral medicines and vaccines available to prevent or treat swine flu.
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS: It is an acute viral respiratory illness. The illness first observed in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia, soon it was reported in 27 countries across the world. MERS is caused by a corona virus as MERS-COV which attacks the respiratory system. No vaccine or specific treatment for MERS is currently available. However, there are several vaccines for MERS in development. Treatment is supportive and based on patient’s clinical condition.
  • Ebola outbreak of 2014-16: It was in West Africa which was noted for its unprecedented magnitude. The actual numbers of cases and deaths however was suspected to be greater than the reported figures. The causative virus was a type of Zaire Ebola virus known as EBOV which is the deadliest of the Ebola viruses. Currently there are no licensed vaccines to prevent Ebola virus disease.

Mehtab Rai is BE student of Mehran University of Engineering & Technology. He can be reached at [email protected]

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