Did you know how many times the world has suffered from Pandemics before Coronavirus

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History of Pandemics in the world: A pandemic is more like a widespread of disease that prevails over an entire country or the world. Diseases and illnesses have plagued humanity since the earliest of days. With the spread of humans around the world, infectious diseases also follow. Although not every outbreak reaches the pandemic level in the modern era, but outbreaks are constant.

history of pandemics in the world

Let’s take a turn to witness the history of pandemics in the world, starting all the way from the Antonine Plague to the current crisis of COVID-19. Pandemics have a way of falling out and here we will understand how.

Antonine Plague

Antonine Plague

The Antonine Plague started in the year 165 AD and continued till 180 AD. With a death toll of 5 million, the Plague of Galen (Antonine Plage) initially entered the Roman Empire by troops returning from campaigns in the Near East. Scholars believed it to either be measles or smallpox but the real cause still remains undetermined. This disease took pause but again broke out 9 years later, causing as high as 2000 deaths per day in Rome alone, spiking the total to 5 million. It is believed that as much as 1/3rd of the population in some areas was killed during this epidemic and this also destroyed the Roman army.

This plague is also called the ‘Plague of Galen’ after a Greek physician and writer named Galen presented his observations in the treatise, Methodus Medendi. He described the plague as ‘great’, ‘long’ and did not fail to mention fever, diarrhea, and pharyngitis along with skin eruption and dry & pustular appearances on the 9th day of the illness. Historian William McNeill found that the severe devastation to the European population during the Antonine Plague indicates that people had no exposure to it earlier, which is why survivors brought immunity.

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History of Pandemics in the world – The Deadliest Pandemics in History

Plague of Justinian

Plague of Justinian

The Plague of Justinian continued from 541 to 542 AD. With a death toll of 25-100 million, this pandemic was one of the worst ones. It affected the Byzantine Empire and most drastically its capital, Constantinople, along with the Sasanian Empire and other port cities around the entire Mediterranean Sea. The cause behind the Plague of Justinian was that merchant ships sheltered rats that carried fleas infected with the plague. This plague had a reoccurrence of two long centuries and is believed to kill almost half of Europe’s total population with its first outbreak during the Plague of Justinian.

The social and cultural impact of this pandemic was as harsh as that of Black Death. In 2013, researchers found that the cause of the plague was Yersinia Pestis, which was the same bacterium responsible for the Black Death (1347-1351). The genetic studies of ancient and modern Yersinia Pestos strains relate that the Justinian plague strain has been found in the Tian Shan, suggesting that the plague might have originated in or near that region itself. A skeleton found in Tian Shan dated around 180 AD and was identified as an “early Hun”. This skeleton was found to contain DNA from Yersinia pestis which closely related to the Tian Shan strain basal ancestor of the Justinian plague strain German samples. Tian Shan is a system of mountain ranges on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China.

Japanese Smallpox Epidemic

Japanese Smallpox Epidemic

The Japanese Smallpox Epidemic which lasted from 735 to 737 was a major smallpox epidemic. This epidemic majorly affected Japan, killing approximately 1/3rd of its entire population. It also had major social, economic, and religious repercussions throughout Japan. The increase in contact between Japan and the Asian mainland is what further led to frequent and serious breakouts of the infectious disease.

The infection is believed to have taken hold in Dazaifu, Fukuoka in northern Kyushu till August 735. It was carried by a Japanese fisherman who got the illness after being stranded on the Korean Peninsula. The disease then spread throughout the northern Kyushu in 735. By 736, the majority of land tenants were either dying or abandoning their crops. This lead to poor yields in agriculture and ultimately, scarcity of food.

Now, you must be wondering why this pandemic was called the Japanese Smallpox Epidemic. In 736, a group of officials from the Japanese government passed through the northern Kyushu. This was a time when the disease was intensified. Now, as the members of this group sickened and died, the rest could not reach their intended mission to the Korean Peninsula. This is when the group made its way back to their home along with the Smallpox. This resulted in a widespread throughout eastern Japan and Nara, which further resulted not only in deaths but also simultaneously triggered dislocation, migration, and imbalance of labour throughout Japan.

Black Death (Bubonic Plague)

Black Death

The most fatal pandemic in human history is the Black Death. With the timeline between 1346 to 1353, this pandemic is believed to kill nearly 75-200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa. This pandemic was caused by the Yersinia Pestis bacterium and was the second plague pandemic in world history after the Plague of Justinian. The Black Death originated in Asia from where it further traveled to Crimea in 1347.

From there on, it spread throughout the Mediterranean Basin, carried by fleas living on black rats. This disease spread out to Africa, Western Asia, and the rest of Europe through Constantinople, Sicily, and the Italian Peninsula. It took nearly 200 years for Europe’s population to recover to its previous level. The Black Death is also known as the Pestilence or Bubonic Plague.

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History of Pandemics in the world – The Deadliest of Pandemics in History

Small Pox

Small Pox

Small Pox was an infectious disease caused by one of the two variants – Variola major and Variola minor. Its early symptoms include fever, vomiting, and mouth sores which later add up to causing symptoms including fluid-filled blisters that scab over. It also causes scarring of the skin and blindness. The disease spread among people via contaminated objects and its prevention was the smallpox vaccine.

The origin of the Small Pox is unknown and the earliest evidence of it dates back to the 3rd century BCE in Egyptian mummies. The disease killed nearly 500 million people in the last 100 years and its timeline stands from 1520 onwards. In the 1500s, China started using Inoculation for smallpox after which a vaccine was introduced by Edward Jenner in 1796. The last case of Small Pox was diagnosed in October 1977 after which WHO certified global eradication of the disease in 1980.

The Italian Plague

The Italian Plague

The Italian Plague, with a timeline of 1629 to 1631, was a series of outbreaks of the bubonic plague (Black Death) that damaged northern and central Italy. This epidemic is also known as the Great Plague of Milan and had a death toll of around 1 million. This plague is what contributed to the economic decline of Italy as compared to other Western European countries.

It was the German and French troops that carried the plague to the Mantua city in 1926. As a result of the troop movements associated with the Thirty Years War, the troops retreated into northern and central Italy, further spreading the disease. By October 1629, the Italian plague reached Milan after which measures like quarantine and limiting access of German soldiers and trade goods came into the picture. This couldn’t help much in smoldering the infection and then came the major outbreak in March 1630. This outbreak was due to relaxation in health measures during the carnival season. Milan then suffered fatalities of approximately 60000 people. The entire population of Milan at the time was 130000.

The Italian plague did not just stop here and went on to record casualties of around 46000 people from Venice, 15000 citizens from Bologna, and more from neighboring cities of Modena, Verona, Florence, and Parma. Researchers have found that the plague led to Lowe growth in several cities and caused long-lasting damages to the Italian urban populations as also to urbanization rates.

The Great Plague of London

The Great Plague of London

The Great Plague of London lasted from 1665 to 1666 and was an extension of the bubonic plague (Black Death) in England. With a death toll of nearly 100000 people in 18 months, the plague was found to have been caused due to the same Yersinia Pestis bacterium as the one in Black Death. This disease was believed to be transmitted through the bite of infected rat fleas.

The Great Plague of London was called so because it was the last outbreak of the 400-year-long Second Pandemic. It was not until 1894 that the identification of the Yersinia Pestis was made by Alexandre Yersin. This identification discovered that the disease was caused by the transmission of the bacterium by rat fleas. The DNA analysis of Yersinia Pestis was confirmed in 2016.

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History of Pandemics in the world – The Deadliest Pandemics in History

Cholera 6 outbreak

Cholera 6 outbreak

The 6th Cholera pandemic was a major outbreak of cholera which began in India. The first cholera pandemic occurred in India from 1817 to 1824. Then the second cholera pandemic lasted from 1826 to 1837 in North America and Europe. After this, the third cholera pandemic erupted from 1846 to 1860. This one included the spread of this disease to South America. The fourth cholera pandemic continued from 1863 to 1875. This one spread from India to Naples and Spain. Then came the fifth cholera pandemic which lasted from 1881 to 1896. It started in India and spread further to Europe, Asia, and South America. Taking the number further, the sixth cholera pandemic began in 1899 and lasted till 1923. With the death toll of over 800000 people, the Cholera 6 outbreak spread out to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Russia.

With a timeline of 1817 to 1923, the Cholera outbreak has killed over tens of millions of people. According to a research by Leonard Rogers, it was revealed that the Cholera 6 outbreak was started at the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. Over time it became easy to treat cholera with the advancement in science and technology. The seventh cholera pandemic is believed to have originated in Indonesia in 1961 but is now no longer considered a pressing health threat in developed countries where governments have established water sanitization practices and effective medical treatments.

The Third Plague

The Third Plague

The Third Plague pandemic was one of the major bubonic plague pandemics which started in 1855 and continued till 1960. It started in Yunnan, China, and recorded a death toll of over 12 million out of which 10 million was from India alone. After the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death, this was a major plague pandemic.

The casualty patterns of the Third Plague indicated that the primary reason was bubonic while the second reason was pneumonic. The strains were largely confined to Asia, majorly Manchuria and Mongolia. The WHO considered this pandemic active till 1960 when the worldwide casualties due to the third plague dropped down to 200 per year.

Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever

With symptoms including fever, chills, loss of appetite, muscle pain, headaches, and nausea, the Yellow Fever is an acute viral transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It lasts for a typically short duration and its symptoms usually improve within 5 days. The disease, along with itself, brings the risk of bleeding and kidney problems. This virus originated in East or Central Africa and from there, it spread to West Africa.

The Yellow Fever is believed to have most probably been transferred to North & South America with the importation of slaves from Africa as part of the Columbian Exchange, following European exploration and colonization. The historian J. R. McNeill asserted that during the colonial times between 1607 to 1783, yellow fever accounted for about 35,000 to 45,000 casualties. This resulted in Napoleon giving up the island and his plans for North America. He sold the Louisiana Purchase to the US in 1803 after which the number of deaths exaggerated. The first outbreak in New York City was recorded in 1668 after which it caused around 100000-150000 deaths in total between the 18th and the 19th centuries. The disease’s tragic episode began in April of 1822 and lasted till 1878.

Since 1988, the WHO and Pan American Health Organization are promoting the use of the yellow fever vaccine in routine childhood immunization programs.

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History of Pandemics in the world – The Deadliest of Pandemics in History

Spanish Flu

Spanish Flu

With a death toll of 40-50 million, the Spanish Flu lasted from 1918 to 1919. This unusual deadly influenza-infected over 500 million people, which made it one of the deadliest pandemics in the history of pandemics.

Although the geographic origin of this disease is hard to tell as there is no solid historical and epidemiological data relating to its location, the disease was named ‘Spanish Flu’ with its spread from France to Spain in November 1918. World War I censors, only to maintain morale, minimized early reports of illness and mortality in many countries including the UK, Germany, France, and the US. It was because the newspapers in Spain were quick in editing the news out of patriotic duty.

And while most influenza outbreaks killed very young and very old, it was noted that this Spanish Flu pandemic mostly affected young adults. The Spanish Flu was the first of the two pandemics caused due to the H1N1 influenza virus. The second one was 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Russian Flu

The Russian Flu, also known as ‘Asiatic flu’ or ‘1889-1890 flu pandemic’ was an influenza pandemic which killed nearly 1 million people around the world. It was also termed as the last pandemic of the 19th century. The maximum reports of the Russian Flu were reported between October to December 1890, after which it reoccurred several times.

In 1889, influenza spread via the modern transport infrastructure which connected the 19 largest European countries by railroads and boats. The first case was reported in Bukhara in May 1889 after which the epidemic reached Saint Petersburg by November 1889. The median time between the first case of the Russian Flu and the peak mortality was recorded for 5 weeks. With time and action against the disease, it was proved that the illness was contagious and as a result, influenza had, for the first time, become a compulsorily notifiable illness. Recently, the strain for this pandemic was asserted to be an Influenza A virus subtype H3N8.

Asian Flu

The Asian Flu also termed as 1957-58 influenza pandemic was another global pandemic of the influenza A virus subtype H2N2. This disease originated in Guizhou, China, and resulted in killing 1-2 million people worldwide. CDC estimated deaths of 1.1 million worldwide. The strain of this virus was a recombination of avian influenza (from geese) and human influenza viruses. The virus was weird in its own manner. It could cause pneumonia without the presence of secondary bacterial infection.

The first cases of the Asian Flu were reported in China in February 1957 (Some people also believe it was reported in late 1956). Later, in April 1957, the effects of the influenza epidemic on thousands of residents were reported in Hong Kong and Singapore. By the end of June 1957, the pandemic reached the United Kingdom, Taiwan, the US, and India after which fatalities increased. The cure for this virus was made available in limited quantities in October 1957. Its rapid deployment thereafter helped in containing the pandemic.

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History of Pandemics in the world – The Deadliest Pandemics in History

Hong Kong Flu

Hong Kong Flu

Post the Asian Flu pandemic, Hong Kong Flu was the next flu outbreak which lasted from 1968 to 1970. It recorded a death toll of one million people worldwide and was found to be caused by an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus. The first report for this flu breakout was witnessed on 13 July 1968 in Hong Kong. This led to extensive breakouts in Vietnam, Singapore, China, India, Philippines, northern Australia, and Europe in 1968. Later, in 1969, the Hong Long flu reached Japan, Africa, and South America.

The Hong Kong Flu, as compared to other pandemics from the 20th century, yielded the least number of deaths but the H3N2 virus returned during 1969 – 1970. This was said to be a deadly wave of the seasonal flu.

HIV/AIDS

HIV AIDS

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, mostly known as HIV/AIDS, is a variety of conditions caused due to HIV. Although there are no major symptoms, a person who is initially infected with HIV/AIDS experiences a brief time of influenza-type illness as a symptom. This infection interferes with the immune system and thus increases the risk of developing common infections like tuberculosis and other opportunistic infections and tumors, which are otherwise rare in people with normal immune functioning. These late symptoms of infection are called AIDS. This stage also relates to unintended weight loss.

This pandemic came into existence in 1981 and is still present globally. The death toll of this pandemic so far is somewhere between 25 – 35 million. The first clinical report of AIDS was reported in the US on 5 June 1981 after which it was unexpectedly discovered in a number of homosexual men. Gradually, the disease was found to be discovered in all communities the term ‘AIDS’ was introduced in July 1982. Similarly, both the HIV-1 and HIV-2 are believed to have originated in West-central Africa. HIV-1 appears to have originated through the evolution of SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) while the HIV-2 is a virus of the sooty mangabey, which is an old-world monkey.

People with HIV/AIDS are often recommended the influenza vaccination and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. Further, appropriate measures against HIV/AIDS helped in curbing the rate of these infections by almost 50% between 1992 and 1997. The WHO has also issued recommendations regarding nutrient requirements in people with HIV/AIDS. So far, no vaccine has been developed to treat this.

Swine Flu

Swine Flu

Swine Flu, most certainly known as the Swine influenza, is an infection caused by one of the many swine influenza viruses. This pandemic lasted for 1 year between 2009 and 2010. Although transmission of the virus from pigs to humans is not common, but if it does, then it can either produce antibodies in the blood or get infected. In such a case, the human flu is called zoonotic swine flu. The Swine Flu majorly affected people who had regular exposure to pigs.

The Swine Flu pandemic originated in the US in April 2009 after which it affected almost 11% of the world’s population in 2009. This made it even bigger than the Spanish Flu. The strain of this virus was found to be a mixture of 3 types of strains. The CDC estimated over 280000 fatalities worldwide. The WHO officially declared the end of swine flu in August 2010.

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History of Pandemics in the world – The Deadliest of Pandemics in History

SARS

SARS

SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is a viral respiratory disease of zoonotic origin that originated in the early 2000s caused by SARS-CoV. This syndrome was the first identified outbreak of the SARS coronavirus species. The SARS pandemic took place from 2002 to 2004. Not until late in 2017 was it discovered that this virus originated through the intermediary of civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in the Yunnan province of China.

Symptoms of SARS include flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle pain, lethargy, sore throat, cough, and more nonspecific symptoms. It gradually also resulted in shortness of breath and pneumonia (either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia. The average incubation period for SARS was marked 4-6 days, although it could also last for as short as 1 day or as long as 14 days.

The primary mode of transmission of SARS was known to be in contact with the mucous membranes with respiratory droplets/fomites. And though the death toll of SARS was 770, it was found that the successor of this virus strain (SARS-CoV-2) was discovered in 2019. This new strain is believed to cause COVID-19.

Ebola

Ebola

The Ebola virus came into existence in 2014 and lasted till 2016. It was a viral hemorrhagic fever caused by ebolaviruses. Symptoms including fever, muscle pain, sore throat, and headaches appeared between two days and 3 weeks after contracting the virus. People infected with Ebola later showed symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and rash which followed by a decrease in the functioning of the liver and kidneys. At one point it got so bad that people even began to bleed internally and externally.

With an estimate death toll of 11000 people worldwide, the Ebola disease was first identified in 2 places in 1976 – Nzara and Yambuku. The Ebola virus spread through direct contact with body fluids. Controlling these outbreaks required coordinated medical services and community engagement including quick detection, contact tracing, quick access to laboratory services, proper disposal of the dead through cremation, or burials.

MERS

MERS

MERSMiddle East Respiratory Syndrome is a species of coronavirus that infects humans, bats, and camels. With its entry in Saudi Arabia in 2012, it was initially called the novel coronavirus. In July 2015, when MERS-CoV cases spread in over 21 countries, WHO identified it as a likely cause of future epidemics. The 21 countries affected by the MERS included Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, the UAE, Kuwait, Turkey, Oman, Bangladesh, Algeria, Indonesia (none were confirmed), Austria, UK, South Korea, the US, China, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The death toll for MERS was reported to be 850 and to date, there is no specific treatment for MERS. It is considered most dangerous for people with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons.

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Novel Coronavirus

The ongoing Novel Coronavirus pandemic, also called COVID-19, began in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. So far (5 May 2020), the coronavirus has reported a death toll of 252760 people worldwide. The total number of people affected by the Coronavirus are estimated to be around 3664580 as of today. Its major symptoms include fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, and muscle pain.

COVID-19 has led several governments to impose lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus around the world. Several measures to contain the spread of this deadly virus have been taken but there isn’t any treatment for the coronavirus so far. Read more about CoronavirusMyths about coronavirus: Myths and facts about COVID-19

If you’re wondering what this pandemic will lead us to, here is a thought,

‘Maybe they just end as suddenly as they come.’

Let us all take the necessary preventive measures in this time of the global pandemic. We will soon make it out alive from this troubling virus. It will indeed be a part of the History of Pandemics, sooner than later.

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