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What makes COVID-19 different from past pandemics that killed millions of people

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COVID-19: Lockdown in Delta is a necessity — AniagwuBy Clifford Ndujihe (With Agency report)

WITH the death toll in the raging COVID-19 pandemic kissing 25,000 and those affected hitting 575,767, there is global unanimity to contain the disease to minimise the collateral damage.

Although, the death toll, so fare is low compared to a litany of past pandemics, its impact is arguably most telling as it has affected 198 countries and territories around the world and one international conveyance (the Diamond Princess cruise ship harboured in Yokohama, Japan).

Europe, China and United States of America are most affected by the Coronavirus.

Besides, COVID-19 seems to have affected more political leaders, top government functionaries, the rich and celebrities than other pandemics that ravaged more of the poor and low income earners.

Past major pandemics, death toll Antonine Plague, 165 AD, 5 million deaths

No fewer than five million lives were claimed by the Antonine Plague also known as the Plague of Galen. It was an ancient pandemic that affected Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, and Italy and is thought to have been either Smallpox or Measles, though the true cause is still unknown. The disease was brought back to Rome by soldiers returning from Mesopotamia around 165 AD. The disease decimated the the Roman army.

Justinian Plague, 541-542, 25 million deaths

Thought to have killed perhaps half the population of Europe, the Plague of Justinian was an outbreak of the bubonic plague that afflicted the Byzantine Empire and Mediterranean port cities, killing up to 25 million people in its year long reign of terror. Generally regarded as the first recorded incident of the Bubonic Plague, the Plague of Justinian killed up to a quarter of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean and devastated the city of Constantinople, where at its height it was killing an estimated 5,000 people a day and eventually resulting in the deaths of 40 per cent of the city’s population.

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The Black Death, 1346-1353, 75-100 million deaths

Also caused by Bubonic Plague, the outbreak of the pandemic known as The Black Death Death from 1346 to 1353 that ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia, left an estimated death toll of between 75 and 100 million people. Thought to have originated in Asia, the Plague most likely jumped continents via the fleas living on the rats that so frequently lived aboard merchant ships. Ports being major urban centres at the time, were the perfect breeding ground for the rats and fleas, and thus the insidious bacterium flourished, devastating three continents in its wake.

Third Cholera Pandemic, 1852–1860, One million lives

Generally considered the most deadly of the seven cholera pandemics, the third major outbreak of Cholera in the 19th century lasted from 1852 to 1860. Like the first and second pandemics, the Third Cholera Pandemic originated in India, spreading from the Ganges River Delta before tearing through Asia, Europe, North America and Africa and ending the lives of over a million people. The worst year of the pandemic was 1854 in which 23,000 people died in Great Britain.

Flu Pandemic, 1889-1890, One million lives

The “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu” as it was called, was thought to be an outbreak of the Influenza A virus subtype H2N2, though recent discoveries have instead found the cause to be the Influenza A virus subtype H3N8. The first cases were observed in May 1889 in three separate and distant locations, Bukhara in Central Asia (Turkestan), Athabasca in Northwestern Canada, and Greenland. Rapid population growth of the 19th century, specifically in urban areas, only helped the flu spread, and before long the outbreak had spread across the globe. In the end, the 1889-1890 Flu Pandemic claimed the lives of over a million people.

Sixth Cholera Pandemic, 1910-1911, 900,000 deaths

Like its five previous incarnations, the Sixth Cholera Pandemic originated in India where it killed over 800,000 people before spreading to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. It was also the source of the last American outbreak of Cholera (1910–1911). American health authorities, having learned from the past, quickly sought to isolate the infected, and in the end only 11 deaths occurred in the U.S.

Flu Pandemic, 1918, 25-50 million deaths

Between 1918 and 1920 a deadly outbreak of influenza also known as Spanish Flu tore across the globe, infecting over a third of the world’s population and ending the lives of 25 – 50 million people. Of the 500 million people infected in the 1918 pandemic, the mortality rate was estimated at 10% to 20%, with up to 25 million deaths in the first 25 weeks alone.

Asian Flu, 1956-1958

Asian Flu was a pandemic outbreak of Influenza A of the H2N2 subtype, that originated in China in 1956 and lasted until 1958. In its two-year spree, Asian Flu travelled from the Chinese province of Guizhou to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, the pandemic caused two million deaths, with the USA accounting for 69,800 deaths.

Flu Pandemic, 1968, One million deaths

A category 2 Flu pandemic sometimes referred to as “the Hong Kong Flu,” the 1968 flu pandemic was caused by the H3N2 strain of the Influenza A virus, a genetic offshoot of the H2N2 subtype. From the first reported case on July 13, 1968 in Hong Kong, it took only 17 days before outbreaks of the virus were reported in Singapore and Vietnam, and within three months had spread to The Philippines, India, Australia, Europe, and the United States. While the 1968 pandemic had a comparatively low mortality rate (.5%) it still resulted in the deaths of more than a million people, including 500,000 residents of Hong Kong, approximately 15% of its population at the time.

HIV/AIDS 2005-2012, 36 million lives

First identified in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, HIV/AIDS over time became a global pandemic, killing more than 36 million people since 1981. Currently there are between 31 and 35 million people living with HIV, the vast majority of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where five per cent of the population is infected, roughly 21 million people. Between 2005 and 2012 the annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2 million to 1.6 million.


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