With coronavirus hogging the headlines and stripping big box stores of face masks purchased in a panic, it’s a good time to visit some of the worst pandemics of the past 100 years and get some basic information.

It’s not comforting to know that the past century has seen some of the worst pandemics.

  • The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1920 killed upwards of 100 million people
  • In 1957-1958, the Asian flu killed two million worldwide
  • The ’68-’69 Hong Kong flu killed one million worldwide
  • From 1960 to the present, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has killed 32 million

Also not comforting: Data points from the book, Disease Control Priorities: Improving Health and Reducing Poverty, 3rd edition:

  • Pandemics have occurred throughout history and appear to be increasing in frequency, particularly because of the increasing emergence of viral disease from animals.
  • Pandemic risk is driven by the combined effects of spark risk (where a pandemic is likely to arise) and spread risk (how likely it is to diffuse broadly through human populations).
  • Influenza is the most likely pathogen to cause a severe pandemic. EP analysis indicates that in any given year, a 1 percent probability exists of an influenza pandemic that causes nearly 6 million pneumonia and influenza deaths or more globally.
  • Individual behavioral changes, such as fear-induced aversion to workplaces and other public gathering places, are a primary cause of negative shocks to economic growth during pandemics.
  • In countries with weak institutions and legacies of political instability, pandemics can increase political stresses and tensions. In these contexts, outbreak response measures such as quarantines have sparked violence and tension between states and citizens.
  • Successful contingency planning and response require surge capacity—the ability to scale up the delivery of health interventions proportionately for the severity of the event, the pathogen, and the population at risk.
Wash your damn hands and keep your fingers outta yer face

Transmission of hand-borne bacteria from health care providers to patients is a huge problem. Yet, the Chicago Tribune reported last year that doctors and nurses clean their hands only half as often as they should. These folks are trained to know the risks, yet, they slack. Now think about us average Joes and Janes, shaking hands with strangers, handling door knobs, toilet handles, restaurant tables, etc. After a few hours, we’re doubtless Petri dishes of disgusting bacteria.

Mercifully, frequent and thorough hand washing (with special attention to the fingertips) with soap and water is enough to prevent coronavirus spread. It’s even more effective than hand sanitizer (which has to contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective).

Per CBS News: “Beyond that, the CDC advises that, whenever possible, you should also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, avoid contact with sick people, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and disinfect objects and surfaces frequently.”

Happy panicking!

Leonce Gaiter, Vice-President, Content & Strategy