Disease outbreaks have occurred throughout history. Some have lasted for years, and are still present today while others evolved and fortunately passed.
Top Five Disease Outbreaks in History
Disease and illness outbreaks have occurred throughout history. Fortunately, the number of outbreaks has significantly decreased due to the vast amount of innovation in medicine and disinfectants. However, we are still vulnerable to many illnesses.
To prevent new pandemics from occurring, it helps to know how previous crises were handled. The following are some of the largest outbreaks in world history.
1.) 1918: Spanish Flu Pandemic
The year was 1918, and waves of mutating influenza viruses swept through the military lines of armies fighting in World War I to the civilian population across the globe. This was commonly referred to as “the Spanish Flu”; however, Spain was no more affected than any other European country, nor was it the source of the disease.
This flu outbreak was the cause of orphaned children, closed schools and businesses, and left the nation without important services due to ill workers. An estimated 675,000 Americans died in a matter of months. It is estimated that 20 million people died across the globe before the pandemic subsided (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
2.) The Great White Plague (TB or Tuberculosis)
Cases of tuberculosis can be traced back to ancient Egypt. There is DNA evidence that proves its presence in Egyptian mummies. Starting in the 1600s, the disease became rampant and plagued the population of Europe for more than 200 years. Known as the Great White Plague, it killed roughly one out of every seven people it infected.
Tuberculosis continued to be a problem during the late 19th century, with estimates that 10 percent of all deaths in the United States were from TB. In 1944, doctors discovered a preventive aid, known as the antibiotic Streptomycin. Although the disease still exists, technological innovations in modern medicine have provided us with the means to protect ourselves against TB.
3.) 1952: Polio Epidemic
Polio is a viral disease that affects the nervous system. The first major polio epidemic in the United States occurred in 1916. In the 1940s and 50s, Polio outbreaks created a frenzy, frightening parents and prohibiting travel from city to city within the United States. Some towns were quarantined to protect the public from affected individuals.
In 1952, over 58,000 cases were reported, including 3,145 deaths (Salk Institute, 2012). However, an effective vaccine has made the United State polio-free since 1979.
4.) 1968 to Present: Norovirus
The norovirus, recently associated with international cruises, is a virus that is transmitted through contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or a contaminated surface. The first case of the new strain of this virus occurred in 2012. Many think of the norovirusas an illness that is picked up from international countries; however, the United States is the leading location for virus outbreaks. The symptoms are comparable to a bad stomach flu.
Although it may not be possible to completely avoid another pandemic such as those mentioned here, there are ways to decrease the spread of disease, and effective, proper cleaning and disinfecting can play a significant role in accomplishing this.
5.) 1980s to Present: HIV/AIDS
The first documented case of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was reported in 1981. Caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),the disease first presented as a rare lung infection characterized by a weakened immune system. AIDS is the final stage of HIV and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States among people age 25 to 44 (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012).
HIV is passed through blood transfusions or use of needles, sexual contact, or from a pregnant woman to her child. Aseptic conditions in hospitals and clinics is one important step in controlling this pandemic.