What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease Covid-19.

What is a pandemic?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a pandemic as “an outbreak of a new pathogen that spreads easily from person to person across the globe.”

According to A Dictionary of Epidemiology, the standard reference for epidemiologists, a pandemic is “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

Simply put, a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new infectious disease. When a new disease spreads over a vast geographical area covering several countries and continents, and most people do not have immunity against it, the outbreak is termed a pandemic.The word is from the Greek ‘pan’ meaning ‘all’ and ‘demos’ meaning ‘people’. It stretches over a larger area, infects more people and causes more deaths than an epidemic. But the term refers to the spread of disease, not its potency or deadliness. There is no fixed number of cases or deaths that determine when an outbreak becomes a pandemic. It, however, implies a higher level of concern than an epidemic.

What is an endemic?

The term endemic refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area. It is an outbreak that occurs at a predictable rate in a certain area or among a set population. Chickenpox is classed as an endemic as it occurs at a high but predictable rate among youngsters. Endemics remain at a steady state, but do not disappear from a population. Hyperendemic refers to the persistent, higher levels of disease prevalence in a particular place.

What is an epidemic?

An epidemic will see a disease rapidly spread among a large number of people in a given population. During an epidemic the disease will normally spread in two weeks or less. Epidemics may be the consequence of disasters of another kind, such as tropical storms, floods, earthquakes and droughts. There have been 14 epidemics since 2010, including the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which killed 11,300 people between 2013 and 2016. In 2003, the SARS outbreak was classed as an epidemic—it killed nearly 800 people.

10 worst pandemics in human history

  1. HIV/AIDS pandemic (at its peak, 2001-12)


Death toll: 36 million

Currently, there are between 31 and 35 million people living with HIV, the vast majority of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 5% 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.

  1. Flu pandemic (1968)

Cause: Influenza

Death toll: 1 million

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.

  1. Asian flu (1956-58)

Cause: Influenza

Death toll: 2 million

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 traveled from the Chinese province of Guizhou to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States.

  1. Flu pandemic (1918)

Cause: Influenza

Death toll: 20-50 million

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 to 50 million people.

What separated the 1918 flu pandemic from other influenza outbreaks was the victims; where influenza had always previously only killed juveniles and the elderly or already weakened patients, it had begun striking down hardy and completely healthy young adults, while leaving children and those with weaker immune systems still alive.

  1. Sixth Cholera pandemic (1910-1911)

Cause: Cholera

Death toll: 800, 000+

Like its five previous incarnations, the Sixth Cholera Pandemic originated in India where it killed over 800,000, before spreading to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia.

  1. Flu pandemic (1889-1990)

Cause: Influenza

Death toll:  1 million

Originally the “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu”, its first cases were observed in May 1889 in three separate and distant locations, Bukhara in Central Asia (Turkestan), Athabasca in northwestern Canada, and Greenland.

  1. Third Cholera pandemic (1852-1860)

Cause: Cholera

Death toll: 1 million

Generally considered the deadliest 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.

  1. The Black Death (1346-1353)

Cause: Bubonic plague

Death toll: 75-200 million

From 1346 to 1353, an outbreak of the Plague ravaged Europe, Africa and Asia, with an estimated death toll between 75 and 200 million people. Originated in Asia, the plague most likely jumped continents via the fleas living on the rats that so frequently lived aboard merchant ships.

  1. Plague of Justinian (541-542)

Cause: Bubonic Plague

Death toll: 25 million

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.

  1. Antonine Plague (165 AD)

Cause: Unknown

Death toll: 5 million

Also known as the Plague of Galen, the Antonine Plague 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.