Pandemics in History

Pandemics that plagued us

When most people hear about the spread of bacteria and germs, they think about epidemics and disease outbreaks. It is important to understand the concepts to avoid unnecessary panic and mass hysteria. An epidemic occurs when a disease breaks out within a specific geographical area and confined populations.

What are Pandemics?
A pandemic is the spread of epidemics all over the world. If not contained, pandemics have the capability of spreading disease even in faraway places. Pandemics can easily transfer from one person to another and has the potential to reach millions of people.
Before a disease can be declared a pandemic, several factors must be present. It should be the first time for the disease to affect a population. Another pre-requisite for a pandemic is that the agent of the disease has infected a single human being thereby causing grave illness. The disease should spread quickly among the human population before it is considered a pandemic.

Spanish Flu
In 1918, America was devastated with the first major pandemic of the flu or influenza virus. It was also known as the Spanish flu. The flu pandemic quickly took the lives of 600,000 people. Doctors and scientists were baffled and were forced to re-evaluate their methods to isolate and contain Spanish flu. The Spanish flu was not like the influenza virus that usually killed babies and the elderly. The pandemic took people by surprise since the massive deaths were mostly young adults and professionals at the prime of their lives.
When the Spanish flu became even more vicious, the death toll rose dramatically especially among populations living in congested urban areas. In just a short time or a little over a month, almost 200,000 people had died from Spanish flu. Eventually, the disease affected other countries as well. In just 6 months, the Spanish flu killed 25 million people from all over the world.

Asian Flu
During the 1950s, another strain of influenze caused a pandemic. The Asian flu, also known as the H2N2 virus, was spreading throughout the continents. The sweep of the Asian flu took the lives of 70,000 Americans and approximately 2 million across the globe. The first case of Asian flu was recorded in China. The pandemic that broke out in 1957 was due a new strain of influenza that came from a combination of human flu and avian flu viruses.
From China, the virus spread in the surrounding regions then eventually reached the shores of the United States. At first, there were only a few cases reported but after some months, several cases were emerging with among those afflicted were the elderly, children and pregnant women. The pandemic was also widespread in the United Kingdom.
The Asian flu had varied effects among the people. Some of the infected showed only minor symptoms like a mild fever and cough. Others were not so lucky since they experienced serious complications like pneumonia. The people who came in contact with the virus but remained unaffected were said to have antibodies that resisted the attack of the Asian flu virus.
The H2N2 virus was slightly modified in the 1960s which gave rise to periodic outbreaks. After ten years of evolution, the virus from Asian flu had disappeared. The quick development of the vaccine against the Asian flu virus also contributed to contain the virus.

Hong Kong Flu
The third pandemic in history came from an influenza strain H3N2 or Hong Kong flu. This pandemic spread in 1968 and the first case was reported somewhere in China. The death toll from the Hong Kong flu was estimated to be between 1 million to 4 million people. It was suspected that this virus evolved from the Asian flu in the late 1950s. Due to the genetic mutation of the virus, individuals who were exposed to the Asian flu virus retained their immunity against the Hong Kong flu virus. The virus was not as vicious as the pandemic brought by the Spanish flu.
Although the Hong Kong virus had lesser fatalities compared to earlier pandemics in history, the H3N2 was declared highly contagious which explained its rapid dissemination in nearby countries. From Hong Kong, it spread in other Southeast Asian countries before reaching America and Europe. The pandemic broke out in two waves in which the second wave proved to be more aggressive than the first. The vaccine against the Hong Kong flu was developed only after the outbreak was its peak.

H1N1 Virus or Swine Flu
Another pandemic hit the globe with the emergence of the H1N1 virus in 2009. It was also known as swine flu since scientists have long suspected that the flu virus evolved and transferred to pigs. During the first outbreak of swine flu, it was noted for highly contagious viral effect and immediately infection of many people from different parts of the world. The first outbreak and H1N1 symptoms were detected in Mexico. The spread of the swine flu was also aided by the air and land travel from passengers of various nationalities.
The H1N1 virus was transmitted through the air. A person only needs to inhale the infectious particles or have contact with someone who was infected for the virus to start the attack. In some countries, swine flu was believed to have been caused by pigs thereby creating confusion and panic.
The swine flu symptoms consisted of a respiratory disease that was similar to the effects of the seasonal flu. H1N1 symptoms include coughing, congestion, runny nose and fever. Several cases were also reported on individuals suffering from severe swine flu symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and chills. When compared to other pandemics in history, the swine flu caused a relatively low mortality rate in humans. Despite efforts to develop a swine flu treatment, the swine flu pandemic became more contagious as it continued to affect mass populations. The Worldwide Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2009 that at least 622,482 people were infected by the swine flu pandemic. Efforts to develop an H1N1 treatment in the form of vaccines were intensified to control the spread of the virus.

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