SARS, the 1918 flu pandemic, and Ebola have all been the big pandemics of recent history.
Each pandemic is different though, and it is hard to predict how they will end.
With COVID-19 cases growing day by day, it’s natural to compare the new disease to other pandemics in recent history.
There was the 1918 influenza followed by threatening viruses that appeared out of nowhere such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the H1N1 influenza in 2009, and Ebola.
Eventually, we managed to handle all of them.
Now that coronavirus has got us all locked in our own homes, let’s take a look at how COVID-19 stacks against other major outbreaks:
The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic was the deadliest flu season in history. It infected about one-third of the world’s population.
In that period, medical science was not nearly as advanced. Scientists didn’t know that viruses caused disease, and there were no vaccines or antivirals for preventing or treating influenza, nor were there any antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.
Life was also a lot difficult back then — for one, europe was in the middle of a war and soldiers carried the virus all over the world. The conditions of living were also very crowded and people had extremely poor hygiene — this helped the disease wreck more and more havoc.
The flu makes its appearance every year but due to the strains’ mutation each year, it can be quite unpredictable as to what will hit. Unlike COVID-19, we have effective vaccines and antiviral medications that prevent and reduce the severity of the flu.
Also, there are many people with residual immunity to the flu because our bodies have encountered the flu before.
With COVID-19,no evidence of an immunity has appeared yet and it is far more contagious and fatal than the flu.
2002–2004 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
SARS is another type of coronavirus that originated in China and spread quickly through respiratory droplets. The death rate of SARS was higher than COVID-19, but comparatively COVID-19 has already claimed more lives.
What was really effective with SARS was monitoring people in close contact with those who contracted it . It also helped that the symptoms of SARS were severe and therefore easier to identify and contain.
What led to the demise of SARS was that it didn’t have the “fitness to persist in the human population”.
This is not true in the case of COVID-19, which seems to be able to spread and thrive in the human body.
Overall, though the death rate of SARS was higher, COVID-19 has led to “more fatalities, more economic repercussions, more social repercussions than we [had] with SARS,”
2009 (H1N1) flu pandemic
Like COVID-19, there was no immunity to H1N1 when the outbreak started. But there were antivirals to facilitate recovery, and within a year, a vaccine was invented — that combined with higher levels of immunity — provided protection in future flu seasons.
Ebola was very deadly. It killed up to 50 percent of those who were infected with it. But because it spreads mainly through bodily fluids like sweat and blood, it wasn’t as contagious as COVID-19.
Also, its symptoms were very severe, so it was very easy to identify those who’d been in contact with people who had it and quarantine them.
Unlike COVID-19, there weren’t any relatively healthy infected people walking around spreading the virus — going on the bus, going shopping, going to work.
Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
All evidence shows that COVID-19 is far more contagious than the flu.
And according to some early reports, it has a higher death rate than the seasonal flu. But it’s deadliness is still not measured since so many people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic and therefore don’t see a doctor and are largely unaccounted for.
According to medical experts, it will take herd immunity that basically blocks out the virus when a huge part of the population gets immune from already being sick along with an effective vaccine.
The best case scenario is that the discovery of a vaccine and proving it safe could take a year or two.
There’s a lot we still need to learn such as the prevalence of the infection along with how the virus is contracted and all the different roads of transmission.
Until then, we must be diligent with social distancing to minimize the number of people who contract it.
We all need to take precaution and limit exposure to one another — especially with older adults and people with previous illness who are most vulnerable to developing severe symptoms.
Remember, COVID-19, is in no way the first pandemic that’s surged around the world — nor will it be the last.