Will COVID-19 end: a dive into past pandemics






COVID 19, Coronavirus, pandemic, quarantine, lockdown is just some of the words that have seen a dramatic increase in its usage in the past few months. Any person who hasn't been living under a rock knows all about the pandemic that has hit humanity this year, or to be more precise in December 2019.

We can't tell when things will be okay. Even though everyone has chosen to act like the virus doesn't exist, it exists big time. More lives are being lost than ever. The sufferings are not over.

We don't know when or if it will end. But what we can do is try to research pandemics in history.  How long they lasted, what were the impacts, did things change?

Of course, this is a new strain of virus with its own way of transmission, but we can correlate basic data

"Historically, we could look at everything back to the 1918 influenza pandemic. But in more contemporary times, we’d be looking at the 2015–2016 Zika outbreak in Central and South America, the global SARS outbreak from 2002 to 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016,” says Jeremy Youde, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota Duluth and an expert on global health politics.

Firstly we can look at some other viruses from the human coronavirus family. As of today, we have identified 7 coronaviruses in humans. The common ones that people around the world get infected by are 229E (alpha coronavirus), NL63 (alpha coronavirus), OC43 (beta coronavirus), and HKU1 (beta coronavirus). They cause mild to moderate flu-like symptoms.

But the other three can cause more serious, even fatal, disease. These are an example of coronaviruses that infect animals, which evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus.

These 3 are  MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS), SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS), and  SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19)

SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV)

The 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) shocked the world as it spread swiftly from continent to continent, SARS affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8000 cases in 2003. But the spread was contained because the human- to human transmission of the virus was seen after the person started showing symptoms. So it was easier to contain, The person would get so sick that he/she wouldn't be capable of spreading it


A new virus that caused respiratory illness became known to the world in September 2012. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is caused by the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Transmitted from an animal reservoir in camels, it continues to cause sporadic and localized outbreaks

It was named "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus"  reflecting the geographical area affected. Globally, more than 2,400 cases have been confirmed since 2012. Over a third of those who got infected have died. According to the WHO, direct or indirect contact with dromedary camels is the most common route of infection. Transmission among people is rare, and it mostly occurs among family members or in healthcare settings.

The third novel coronavirus to emerge in this century is SARS-CoV-2. It causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which emerged from China in December 2019 and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020 - which is happening right now.


This kind of pandemic has not been seen in a century. Pandemics can be deadly as they hurt public health and cause a fall in the economy. Even though COVID 19 is not nearly as fatal as SARS or smallpox, it is far more dangerous because of its mode of transmission. It more or less a silent killer.

Now let's look at some of the pandemics in recent history that has affected mankind

Cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, and influenza are some of the most brutal killers in human history. And outbreaks of these diseases across international borders, defined as a pandemic, especially smallpox, which throughout history, has killed between 300-500 million people in its 12,000 year existence.

The COVID-19 pandemic declaration is the first to be made since the 2009 H1N1 swine flu.


H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic:  ( 2009-2010 )

We all remember this, don't we.

The 2009 swine flu pandemic was caused by a new strain of H1N1 that originated in Mexico in the spring of 2009 before spreading to the rest of the world. In one year, the virus infected as many as 1.4 billion people across the globe and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people, according to the CDC.

The 2009 flu pandemic mainly affected children and young adults, and 80% of the deaths were in people younger than 65, the CDC reported.A vaccine for the H1N1 virus that caused the swine flu is now included in the annual flu vaccine. 



Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 

At its peak around 2005-2012. But it was first discovered in the 1980s. The virus made its way around the world, and AIDS was a pandemic by the late 20th century. Currently, the death toll stands at 36 million.

Currently, between 31 and 35 million people are living with HIV, the vast majority of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

There is no known cure for this disease, but over years lots of medications have been produced to slow down its progress and the best news is that as of 2020, 2 people are cured.


FLU PANDEMIC (1918) (the most severe pandemic in recent history.)

Between 1918 and 1920 a disturbingly deadly outbreak of influenza tore across the globe, infecting over a third of the world’s population and ending the lives of 20 – 50 million people. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin.  It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. with no vaccine, people tried to resort to social distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions

 Although the 1918 flu wasn’t isolated to one place, it became known around the world as the Spanish flu, as Spain was hit hard. By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity.

 Since 1918, there have been several other influenza pandemics, although none as deadly. Namely: FLU PANDEMIC (1889-1890) FLU PANDEMIC (1968) ASIAN FLU (1956-1958)


THE BLACK DEATH (1346-1353)

It is one of the first pandemics that comes to mind because of the horrific devastation it left in its wake. The black death was a bubonic plague that struck Europe Africa and Asia, that wiped out half the population of Europe.  Around 200 million people died in a span of 5 years

The causative agent of the plague was a  strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis. ( which the scientists discovered years later)

This is the historic tragedy that first introduced " quarantine " to the world. People kept distance from the  affected who showed symptoms, as The Black Death was "terrifyingly, indiscriminately contagious"  Boccaccio wrote, “the mere touching of the clothes, appeared to itself to communicate the malady to the toucher.”

Today we know that the bacillus travels from person to person through the air, as well as through the bite of infected fleas and rats.

The Black Death epidemic had run its course by the early 1350s, but the plague reappeared every few generations for centuries. Better sanitation, hygiene, and availability of antibiotics have mitigated the impact.



The Plague of Justinian or Justinianic Plague was the beginning of the first plague pandemic, the contagious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The Byzantine Empire was ravaged by the bubonic plague, which marked the start of its decline. The plague reoccurred periodically afterward.

Some estimates suggest that up to 10% of the world's population died, killing up to a quarter of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean and devastating the city of Constantinople, where at its height it was killing an estimated 5,000 people per day and eventually resulting in the deaths of 40% of the city’s population. Total death toll is said to be 25 million.

The contagion arrived in Roman Egypt in 541 and spread around the Mediterranean Sea until 544; in Northern Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, persisting until 549

Even through this time of uncertainty, mankind has more tools than ever to fight this battle.  A vaccine is our best chance. It can facilitate herd immunity and thus transmission will get slower and hopefully stop.  The formula for this vaccine was developed within 2 months which is record-breaking in the vaccine development history.  This means that we are already ahead of all the previous pandemics in relation to the timeline of drug development.

Let's stay positive, whether you have accustomed to this lifestyle or can't wait to go out about as usual. Always wear a mask. Keep your hand sanitizers with you and please maintain social distancing.

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