Before the coronavirus, the human race has had to deal with various epidemics and pandemics across the centuries. Many of them have claimed millions of lives, and as the coronavirus racks up the numbers we take a look at the virus’ deadly predecessors.
Last Updated: Mar 01, 2020, 02.36 PM IST
The recent coronavirus outbreak has triggered panic across the globe, prompting travel bans, visa restrictions and large-scale quarantines.
The coronavirus – COVID-19 – has reached 60 countries but has not yet caused widespread fatalities outside of mainland China. The outbreak has been classified as an epidemic as opposed to a pandemic — the difference being that an epidemic is the widespread occurrence of a disease in one community at a particular time, whereas a pandemic is when a disease spreads across continents at the same pace.
If, however, the rate of infection and death increases it could soon be classified as a pandemic.
There have been major occurrences of those across history; here are a few:
- Sixth cholera (1910-1911)
The sixth cholera outbreak began in India, subsequently spreading to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. The outbreak killed 8,00,000 people.
- Third cholera (1852)
The third cholera outbreak also originated in India and spread across continents — claiming over one million lives across the world. Of the epidemics in the 19th century, the third cholera outbreak had the highest fatalities.
- Hong Kong flu (1968)
The flu of 1968 was a global outbreak of the influenza virus, which originated in the Asian continent. The pandemic was caused by the virus’ H3N2 subtype — suspected to have evolved from a previous influenza outbreak — in 1957. The virus killed one million people.
- Flu (1889-1890)
This version of the influenza virus was the H3N8 subtype, originating in the Russian Empire and subsequently spreading across the Northern Hemisphere aided by the advent of modern transport infrastructure. The disease claimed one million lives.
- Asian flu (1957)
The Asian flu was an avian influenza outbreak that spread in the late 1950s and later died out after a vaccine was introduced. At its height, the virus killed two million people.
- Antonine plague (AD 165)
The Antonine plague — also known as the Plague of Galen — hit the Roman Empire, killing five million people. It was suspected to have been either smallpox or measles brought back by troops returning to Rome from the Far East
- Plague of Justinian (541-542)
An outbreak of bubonic plague, the pandemic hit the Byzantine Empire and many cities around the Mediterranean Sea, spreading with ease due to the large number or unclean ships arriving into the ports. The plague is estimated to have killed 25 million people (at that point, that was close to half the population of Europe).
- HIV/AIDS (2005-2012)
AIDS is an auto-immune disease, caused by the Human Immuno Virus (HIV), that was first identified in the Republic of Congo in 1976 but did not become a pandemic until it peaked between 2005 and 2012 largely affecting the African continent. The sexually transmitted virus has killed over 35 million people in the decades of its existence.
- Spanish flu (1918)
One of the deadliest flu outbreaks in history, it infected about 500 million people, and killed over 50 million people. The pandemic was one of the two outbreaks caused by the H1N1 virus. Reportedly, the spread of disease was exacerbated by overcrowded hospitals and poor hygiene.
- The Black Death (1346-1353)
The deadliest outbreak in recorded history, the Black Death killed over 200 million people, reshaping demographics across the world. Historians believe the disease originated in Asia and travelled across the world on ships that housed black rats.
So far, the coronavirus has claimed nearly 3,000 lives across the globe — the bulk of them in China — and has infected close to 90,000 people in 60 countries. Based on current statistics, COVID-19 has a fatality rate of 3.4 per cent – far lower than the 40.4 per cent rate of the Ebola virus.
But, China being the epicentre of the global supply chain, the spread of the virus has affected businesses across the world. A vaccine is in the works but there is no saying how long its development will take.
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