Let us take a look at the brief history of the Flu Pandemics that have ravaged humans over the years and their impact on mankind. We will put a special emphasis on the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 2019 Coronavirus.
Throughout the existence of humankind, plagues and epidemics have attacked humans, sometimes going to the extent of threatening the survival of the species. The disease outbreaks have severally changed the course of history, sometimes ending entire civilizations. Humanity has faced several pandemics through their existence, such as smallpox tuberculosis and flu. The most remembered epidemic was the Black Death, also known as the plague whose devastating effects left an estimated 75-200 million people dead. Other epidemics include the 1918 flu, the 2009 flu pandemic, and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Diseases have been man’s companion throughout history from the Antoine plague to COVID-19. This article looks at the history of pandemics, with a particular focus on coronavirus and flu pandemics.
History of pandemics
A pandemic is a disease outbreak that has spread across a large area affecting several continents or the entire world. For a disease to be considered to be a pandemic, it must fulfill certain criteria. The disease must affect not only many people and be widespread but also be infectious. Cancer affects many people worldwide but is not considered a pandemic because it is neither infectious nor contagious. The World Health Organization has a six-stage classification criterion that they use to classify an epidemic from the time the virus infects animals to becoming zoonotic until the time it becomes widespread. The categorization is not official, though.
Influenza is also known as flu, is an infectious disease affecting mammals and birds. RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae cause it. The disease presents through symptoms such as fever sore throat, muscle pains, coughing, and headache. In the more severe case of the disease, it presents as pneumonia, which can be fatal, especially to the elderly and children. The virus is spread from infected mammals through aerosols in the air by coughing and sneezing. Healthy people get infected when they either directly breathe in the aerosols bearing the virus or by touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with body fluids containing the virus.
An influenza pandemic is an outbreak of the influenza virus that infects and spreads to a larger proportion of the world population. There are seasonal epidemics of influenza, but pandemics occur irregularly. The world has seen five pandemics in the last 140 years, with coronavirus pandemic being the latest. The 1918 Spanish flu is the deadliest in recent history. It claimed 50-100 million deaths. The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic killed close to a million people and is considered mild. During pandemics, a new strain of the influenza virus is usually transmitted from an animal to humans. This is then followed by a human to human infections. Humans normally lack immunity against these new strains, and this leads to fast spread and high mortality cases.
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Spanish flu (1918-1920)
The 1918 flu pandemic, also known as the Spanish, was caused by a deadly influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1. It lasted two years, killing an estimated 50-100 million people. It is referred to by many as the greatest medical holocaust in history that killed as many people as the Black Death. The Black Death killed a fifth of the world population at the time which represents a significantly higher proportion. The high death toll can be attributed to the high infection rate and the severity of the symptoms. Reports show that the symptoms were so unusual that it was initially diagnosed as cholera, dengue, and typhoid. The most striking of the complicated symptoms was hemorrhaging from mucous membranes. There were also reported cases of bleeding from the ears and petechial hemorrhages.
The outbreak started during the final months of World War I, and the war may have contributed to the spread. Troops returning home on leave after the war took with them the undetected virus. Despite being called the Spanish flu, it is believed that the origin of the disease was China. The spread is linked to Chinese laborers who were transported in sealed containers from rural China. The laborers were required to dig trenches, offload trains, and build roads. At the time, due to racial stereotypes, the Chinese were labeled as lazy by doctors, and many did not take their sickness seriously. The disease killed between 10-20% of those infected. The disease was unusual since most of those killed were young adults as opposed to the elderly, as seen in other flu pandemics. To put the numbers into perspective, the epidemic killed 25 million people in the first 25 weeks, and contrast HIV AIDS has killed 25 million in the last 25 years.
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the latest flu pandemic to fall on man. It is the greatest challenge man has had to face since World War II. COVID-19 began in China in December 2019 and spread to all continents except Antarctica. The pandemic is spreading like a wave, and it is the first time in history that while the world has unanimously agreed to shut down to save humanity. COVID-19 is more than just a health crisis because it has the potential to leave substantial social, economic, and political impacts.
The disease causes a flu-like respiratory illness with symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, fever, and difficulty in breathing. It is spread when a person infected with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs and releases droplets with the virus. A person can also become infected if they touch the surfaces contaminated with the virus, then they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. Coronaviruses cause a range of illnesses ranging from the common cold to the more severe cases of MERS and SARS. The current pandemic is caused by a coronavirus called COVID-19, which is coined from the synonyms for Corona Disease 2019. There are several coronavirus diseases affecting animals, but very few are known to affect humans. During a spillover event, the viruses are transmitted to humans beginning infections. There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, but the symptoms can be managed, leading to recovery. Experts advise that maintaining proper hygiene and social distancing is the best method to reduce the spread. Social distancing helps reduce the number of possible contacts with an infected person curbing the spread.