Previous epidemics and pandemics from today to 5,000 B.C.

(Updated 9-14-20) Most of the recent pandemic and academic viruses are influenza (flu) coronaviruses, as you can see below. They mutate into different versions. Fortunately, Covid-19 does not appear to mutate very much, so far.

Every epidemiologist’s nightmare was a respiratory virus pandemic. Now we have SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which is similar to the 1918 Spanish flu, our last pandemic.

“The virus met all his four criteria for a nightmare scenario” Per Dr. Anthony Fauci: new, respiratory-borne, easily transmissible and has a significant degree of illness or mortality.”

Electron microscope view

1918 Spanish flu (H1N1 influenza coronavirus) was a “novel” (new) coronavirus. No human had ever been infected. The most recent U.S. pandemic. The avian-borne flu resulted in 500 million infected and 50 million deaths worldwide, from February 1918 to April 1920. 675,000 Americans died. The U.S. population at that time was 103,268,000. The death rate was 6.5%.

The Spanish flu disappeared when most of the infected had either developed immunities or died (herd immunity). Many of the deaths were people in their 20s to 40s, very unusual, which had a significant negative effect on America. Covid mostly affects older people, especially over 80 and has a much lower death rate, .6 to 1.0%. 

1957 Asian flu (H3N2 influenza, combination of other coronaviruses) caused an estimated total of about 1.1 million deaths globally, with 116,000 deaths in the United States. A vaccine was developed, effectively containing the pandemic.

1968 Hong Kong flu (H2N2 influenza combination of other coronaviruses) The estimated number of deaths was 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States. Most deaths were in people 65 years and older. I had this flu in my early 20s in San Francisco. I was so sick I wrote my will and gave it to my brother. It continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus.

1981: HIV/AIDS. (HIV – human immunodeficiency virus) 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery. No vaccine. Per the CDC, there were 16,350 deaths in the U.S. in 2017, a significant decrease from the over 40,000 deaths reported at the height of the epidemic in 1995. Medication is available to slow the progress of the disease.

2003: SARS-CoV novel coronavirus, In 27 other countries, infecting 8,096 people, with 774 deaths. Quarantine efforts proved effective to control the virus. By July, the virus was contained and hasn’t reappeared since. Active in east Asia. They were not prepared in 2003. This is the primary reason why China, Hong Kong, South Korea, etc. were prepared for COVID-19.

2009 Swine Flu coronavirus

2009 (H1N1) “swine” flu novel coronavirus. Like COVID-19, it was a “novel” virus. There was no immunity at the start of the outbreak. There were antivirals to facilitate recovery. It claimed over 12,000 lives in the United States. By the end of 2009, a vaccine which, combined with higher levels of immunity, provided protection in future flu seasons. The federal government learned a lot about how to prepare for another epidemic and set up manuals on how to handle a new pandemic.

2012 MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) novel coronavirus. MERS killed 34% of people with the illness between 2012 and 2019 (2,494 cases and 858 deaths worldwide). CDC is monitoring for future outbreaks. No vaccine.

2014-2016 EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) is extremely deadly, killing up to 50 percent of those who got sick. But because it predominantly spread through bodily fluids like sweat and blood during the last stages of the disease, it wasn’t as contagious as COVID-19. The symptoms were so severe, health officials were able to quickly identify those who’d been in contact with people who had it and isolate them. There is a vaccine.

A brief look at pandemics as far back as 5,000 years ago

Throughout the course of history, disease outbreaks have ravaged humanity, sometimes changing the course of history and, at times, signaling the end of entire civilizations.  In North and South America, Europeans brought deadly infectious diseases that the inhabitants had never encountered. Large numbers of them died.

Roman Antonine Plague 165-1909

Viral and bacterial pandemics and epidemics have been affecting humans for thousands of years. But relatively few were recorded in the west, except Greece and Rome over 2,000 years ago.




Skeletons from Chinese Epidemic 3,000 yrs ago

About 5,000 years ago, an epidemic wiped out a prehistoric village in China. The bodies of the dead were stuffed inside a house that was later burned down. 



Vikings had smallpox (variola virus) and may have helped spread the world’s deadliest virus. Recently, scientists discovered extinct strains of smallpox in the teeth of Viking skeletons. This proved for the first time that it affected humans for at least 1,400 years.

To read about 20 of the worst plagues, going back to a Prehistoric epidemic: Circa 5,000 B.C. in China, click here.

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