Not only coronavirus: “Spanish flu”, Ebola, SARS and other terrible epidemics of the XXI century

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Chinese pneumonia

The world is almost panic-stricken due to the spread of the coronavirus. At the end of December, a new coronavirus infection was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. More than two months later, the geography of distribution already covers 101 countries. In some, for example, in Italy, quarantine was introduced until April 3, schools were closed. Most employers have sent employees to work from home. The number of cases in the world, meanwhile, has exceeded 110 thousand, more than 4 thousand have become victims of coronavirus infection. At risk are the elderly, among children and adolescents less than one percent of cases.

Mass events around the world are postponed or canceled one after another. And if in January, analysts predicted that the outbreak would decline in February, then in March, completely different forecasts: we should not expect a decrease in the activity of the virus by summer, Zhong Nanshan, head of the special expert commission of the State Committee for Health of the People’s Republic of China, suggested. As long as it continues to spread around the world. There is no vaccine at the moment, only developments are underway, which will then have to undergo a series of tests in the laboratory and only after that on living organisms. This does not inspire optimism for people who refuse to travel and massively buy medical masks and antibacterial agents. Can the latter fully protect against infection in case of contact with a sick person or objects with a virus on the surface? Hand on heart, probably not.


If we recall the epidemics of recent decades, then one of the most terrible in terms of the number of victims was Ebola. The outbreak began in West Africa in 2014. Mortality was up to 90% (!). More than 13,000 people became its victims (this is only official data, real numbers are always higher). The highest deaths were recorded in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Russia, the victims were two laboratory assistants who accidentally pierced the skin during experiments, and thus became infected with the virus.

Signs of this dangerous viral infection include high fever and severe intoxication. The infected began vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, external (literally, blood from the eyes) and internal bleeding. In many countries, it only faded away two years later, although the Congo continued to have an epidemic in 2019. About 3,000 people were infected there last year. The world media wrote little about this, and therefore it seemed to many that Ebola had long been a thing of the past. In fact, the WHO declared this outbreak an international emergency – in July 2019! The status was valid until the end of the year. It wasn’t until November 2019 that an Ebola vaccine was approved. She received the status of an approved medicine and began to be imported into African countries.


Another name for the disease is “severe acute respiratory syndrome”. The infection affected the lungs and was caused by such atypical pathogens as legionella, mycoplasmas, chlamydia, and viruses. The peak of the epidemic occurred in the spring of 2003 and initially spread in the countries of Southeast Asia. Soon, cases were already recorded in 30 countries around the world. More than 900 people became victims. In the same 2003, in the summer, the outbreak subsided.

Bats are known to be the source of infection. The same is with the coronavirus: bats and snakes are considered the source – having mutated in their cells, the virus “moved” to humans. And here is a curious difference: 70% of those infected with SARS were young people. In the case of COVID-19, the victims are mostly people over 50 years old with chronic diseases and weakened immunity.

Bird flu

Also in 2003, the bird flu caused by the H5N1 virus became widespread. Sick birds became the source of infection, cases of infection from person to person are extremely rare. The first confirmed case of infection was recorded in Hong Kong back in 1997, when 6 people became its victims – too small a number to talk about an outbreak. The virus reactivated years later. Infection is dangerous with complications, in particular, the development of viral pneumonia. According to WHO, 262 people from 16 countries of the world have died from bird flu. And the main way to combat the spread was the slaughter of millions of poultry.

Cases of bird flu are periodically recorded in different countries. For example, this year an outbreak of H5N1 occurred on a poultry farm in Hunan province – no cases of human infection were recorded.

Swine flu

The H1N1 influenza A virus was identified in pigs as early as 1930. But everyone remembers the pandemic in 2009-2010. It all started in Mexico – it was there, on March 18, 2009, that the first case of infection was recorded. And in April, WHO sounded the alarm by declaring a swine flu pandemic. The virus has spread to more than 200 countries. Young healthy people often became sick. According to WHO, about 18.5 thousand people became victims of the virus in 2009.

Swine flu did not bypass Russia: the then chief state sanitary doctor of the Russian Federation Gennady Onishchenko announced in December 2009 that there were 21,000 cases of A / H1N1 influenza in our country. Only in 2010 did the virus subside, but even then doctors warned that the infection would periodically appear as a kind of seasonal flu, which is ineradicable.

spanish flu

And, of course, speaking of pandemics, one cannot fail to mention the epidemic of the Spanish flu – the Spanish flu, which swept the world immediately after the end of the First World War in 1918-1919. The numbers of victims are incomparable with the statistics of modern epidemics: more than 50,000,000 deaths (before that, cholera was in the lead with its 20 million victims). The Spanish flu spread around the world at lightning speed, not everyone could afford medical care, there were not enough medicines, unsanitary conditions flourished. The morgues were filled to overflowing with corpses. People often died on the first day according to the scheme: chills, bloody cough, blue face. “There was no time to treat patients, measure temperature, pressure. People had such nosebleeds that the blood shot around the room,” recalled American nurse Josie Brown.

So for a long time it was unknown what caused the Spanish flu and why, having circled the entire planet, it suddenly disappeared. Only in the early 2000s, after extracting the lung tissues of some of the dead (whose bodies rested in the permafrost zone – Approx.), Scientists found out that the virus caused an uncontrolled reaction of the immune system when the body produces too many cytokines (protein molecules) to fight infection.

But epidemiologists are in no hurry to please: the flu is constantly mutating, new strains will certainly appear and take human lives. According to WHO, every year a seasonal influenza epidemic takes away up to 650,000 lives in the world. And the coronavirus is still far from such numbers.

Photo: GlobalLookPress; Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

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