Economy,  FIRE,  Life

The History Of Pandemics, COVID-19 In Perspective

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Geez, some of the news just goes from bad to worse right guys?

Stay safe, stay vigilant and above all, wash those hands!

Despite all the chaos and disruption and FEAR, I thought perhaps we could take a step back and ask why?

Why is this happening?

And more importantly, why is it happening now?

The answer is…

It’s always happened.

By this I mean pandemics, and viruses and natural illnesses have always been a part of our history.

Indeed, some pandemics have been far, far worse than COVID-19.

Our friends at Visual Capitalist constructed a brilliant post on the history of pandemics to give some context:

The History of Pandemics by Death Toll

In table form:

Name Time period Type / Pre-human host Death toll
Antonine Plague 165-180 Believed to be either smallpox or measles 5M
Japanese smallpox epidemic 735-737 Variola major virus 1M
Plague of Justinian 541-542 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 30-50M
Black Death 1347-1351 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 200M
New World Smallpox Outbreak 1520 – onwards Variola major virus 56M
Great Plague of London 1665 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 100000
Italian plague 1629-1631 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 1M
Cholera Pandemics 1-6 1817-1923 V. cholerae bacteria 1M+
Third Plague 1885 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 12M (China and India)
Yellow Fever Late 1800s Virus / Mosquitoes 100,000-150,000 (U.S.)
Russian Flu 1889-1890 Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin) 1M
Spanish Flu 1918-1919 H1N1 virus / Pigs 40-50M
Asian Flu 1957-1958 H2N2 virus 1.1M
Hong Kong Flu 1968-1970 H3N2 virus 1M
HIV/AIDS 1981-present Virus / Chimpanzees 25-35M
Swine Flu 2009-2010 H1N1 virus / Pigs 200000
SARS 2002-2003 Coronavirus / Bats, Civets 770
Ebola 2014-2016 Ebolavirus / Wild animals 11000
MERS 2015-Present Coronavirus / Bats, camels 850
COVID-19 2019-Present Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins) 8,000 (as of Mar 19, 2020)

What’s more, here is how COVID-19 compares in terms of infectivity rates:

Harrowing stuff.


The main take-away for me, would be that just because it feels like things are occuring unique to you doesn’t mean that it is unique in our history.

But you know what?

Despite the persistence of disease and pandemics throughout history, there’s one consistent trend over time – a gradual reduction in the death rate.

Healthcare improvements and understanding the factors that incubate pandemics have been powerful tools in mitigating their impact.

Of course, it is still too early to calculate and forecast the impact of COVID-19, as it is still ongoing and the situation is changing day-by-day.

But I have faith that our governments and healthcare departments are doing their utmost to find a solution.

There is an unprecedented co-ordinated international response to this crisis.

It might not matter when there is so much social unrest and economic uncertainty, but hopefully this provides a bit more perspective that historically, we’ve had it much worse, and we’ve ALWAYS gone through it.

And that gives me hope.

Stay safe, stay healthy everyone and remember, please wash those hands!

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