Volume 27 Number 4
What is a Virus?
What is a pandemic?
Why do we care?
By Frank Hubbell, DO
Illustrations by T.B.R. Walsh
There are currently a lot of concerns about infectious disease and the risk of another worldwide pandemic. This is being driven by the current Ebola scare. Over the course of human history, there have been many pandemics that did have a major impact on human populations and history itself.
In our most recent history, there was and still is, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) pandemic. When HIV was first described in the mid 1980’s, there was a great outcry that it was the next great pandemic. Experts at the time estimated that it would kill upwards to 20% of the world population in 10 years and a much higher percentage in developing nations. HIV never became as serious as estimated because of dedication to good research, medical science, and excellent education. Today HIV remains a very serious illness, but it is very well understood, and excellent antiviral medications have been developed. As a result, it is under good control, at least in developed nations.
The last major, true worldwide pandemic was the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918.
From 1918-1919 the Spanish Flu raced around the globe, the worst influenza pandemic to date. Caused by an H1N1 flu virus, it was responsible for more than 500,000 U.S. deaths, as compared to 50,000 US servicemen who died in WWWI the previous two years. The worldwide death estimates range from 20 million to 100 million.
This Spanish Flu pandemic occurred before the invention of antibiotics. Antibiotics are essential in treating the secondary bacterial infections that often kill flu-weakened patients. So, that number would most likely be much lower today with the use of antibiotics to treat the potentially life-threatening secondary respiratory infections and pneumonias.
Major Worldwide Pandemics: (only the largest pandemics are noted.)
Date Number of Deaths and Location Cause
165-180 30% of Europe, Asia, and North Africa Smallpox
541-542 40% of the European population Bubonic plague
1346-1350 30%-70% of the European population Plague
1629-1631 280,000 deaths worldwide Plague
1665-1666 100,000 deaths in England,(Great Plague of London) Plague
1816-1826 >100,000 deaths in Europe and Asia Cholera #1 epidemic
1829-1851 >100,000 – Asia, Europe, and North America Cholera #2 epidemic
1852-1860 1,000,000 deaths in Russia Cholera #3 epidemic
1875 40,000 deaths in Fiji measles
1889-1890 1,000,000 deaths world from influenza influenza
1899-1923 >800,000 Europe, Asia, Africa Cholera #6 epidemic
1918-1920 75,000,000 deaths worldwide – the Spanish flu influenza
1957-1958 2,000,000 deaths worldwide – the Asian flu influenza
1968-1969 1,000,000 deaths worldwide – the Hong Kong flu influenza
1960 – now >30,000,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS pandemic HIV/AIDS
2009-2010 14,286 deaths from viral influenza influenza
2013-2014 6,000+ deaths from Ebola virus Ebola virus
In regard to pandemics, smallpox is no longer a threat, declared eliminated as of 1974 through the efforts of worldwide vaccination programs. A similar program is currently being undertaken by Rotary International in an attempt to eliminate the poliovirus as well.