Throughout history there have been a number of major pandemics; in fact, almost every recorded civilization has been affected by these outbreaks. From smallpox and tuberculosis to the Bubonic Plague and major flu outbreaks, pandemics are a very real concern, even in our modern age of medicine.
History of Pandemics – Major Recent Pandemics
Over the last couple hundred years, hundreds of millions of people have died as the result of pandemic outbreaks. Here are a couple of the big ones that have hit during recent times.
1918 Flu Pandemic – The Spanish Flu
The Flu Pandemic of 1918 is perhaps one of the most recent, and deadly contagions to hit North America. In March 1918, a highly deadly form of the flu virus broke out in a US military camp in Kansas. Within six months the virus had spread throughout the world, infecting 40% of the population, and killing an estimated 50 million people.
In the United States, nearly 675,000 people died during the pandemic outbreak. Of those that died, most were healthy adults; in fact, the highest casualty rates came among those in the 20 – 50-year-old age group. To this day researchers are not sure why that age group was affected, as these types of outbreaks usually affect older and younger age groups.
Recently, scientists have begun work to bring back the 1918 flu virus, which was found preserved in the permafrost of Alaska. They hope to study the virus to prevent future outbreaks, but some wonder if they are playing with fire by even attempting to resurrect this deadly contagion.
The Third Pandemic, caused by the Bubonic Plague, started in 1855 and was not fully contained until 1959. It’s thought that the pandemic may have been spread through transporting infected people, rats, and cargo harboring fleas through ocean-going trade. The pandemic later took on pneumonic characteristics and began spreading from person to person.
While the secondary strain was mostly confined to Asia, it’s estimated that some 12 million people throughout the world eventually died as a result of the Third Pandemic. It’s thought that the Third Pandemic may have been the root cause of the San Francisco plague of 1900–1904, which was the first recorded Pandemic to hit the United States.
During the 19th century, Cholera outbreaks were responsible for killing tens of millions of people throughout the world. Worldwide, it still affects 3–5 million people every year and is responsible for somewhere around 100,000–130,000 deaths a year
Smallpox is a highly contagious disease that is estimated to have killed 300–500 million people during the 20th century. Although the disease was successfully eradicated in 1979, a few recent cases have popped up, most notably one in a research laboratory that was responsible for smallpox research.
Since that incident, the World Health Organization has recommended the destruction of all remaining lab samples of the virus, to date that has not been done.
Dangers of a Pandemic Outbreak in Today’s Society
Ask most researchers and they will tell you that it’s not a matter of if, but when. In a story that we covered last year on global pandemics, Jason Tetro, a microbiologist with the Emerging Pathogens Research Centre and the Centre for Research on Environmental Microbiology told us, “I believe that the world is becoming increasingly more likely to see a significant event. It’s a process that is highly predictable.”
He went on to say, a pandemic outbreak in today’s world would likely travel much quicker and could cause far more deaths than previous pandemics.
Tetro said “When one thinks that almost 100 years ago, when we had the 1918 pandemic, it could take months to circumnavigate the globe. Today, it can be accomplished in a day. Moreover, with more individuals traveling than ever before, the opportunity for a pandemic strain to spread is greater than it has ever been.”
How Real is the Pandemic Threat?
This is a subject that we have covered on multiple occasions, primarily because it’s one of the most likely, and based on past experiences, predictable disasters that our civilization will face. If history teaches us anything, it shows us how dangerous and real this threat is to our future.
Like Jason Petro told us, today’s world is prime for a pandemic. The way we live, travel, and buy our food makes us more susceptible to pandemics than any time in the history of mankind. Remember it’s not if it will happen; it’s when.
What would a Worldwide Pandemic look like?
Based on past pandemics, we know that millions upon millions of deaths are a real possibility. With the advent of modern technology and travel, that number will likely be much higher than anything we’ve ever seen.
Places in this world that were once remote, and removed from the rest of the world, are now only a plane trip away. These areas in the world, like third-world nations where these diseases still exist, are now traveled to more than ever before. The fact is it’s only a matter of time before a pandemic sweeps across the globe.
During the 1918 flu pandemic, over 500 million were infected; it’s estimated that 50 million of them died. Even in areas where mortality rates were low, the population was still severely affected. Hospitals were overwhelmed, schools were shut down, stores closed for weeks, and people had to make do with what they had.
Sadly, today’s technology has left the world unprepared for a pandemic outbreak. Without people to work, protect, and maintain our antiquated infrastructure you will quickly see the system shut down.
From utilities and municipal water supplies to food delivery systems and commerce, our system needs people to maintain this incredibly complex system we’ve grown dependent on. As people start to become ill, our system will quickly become overwhelmed. If we’re not prepared to deal with that, the consequences of an infrastructure shut down might kill more people than the actual illness.
What can you do you do to protect yourself for a Pandemic Outbreak?
Preparing for the possibility of a Pandemic Outbreak is similar to the preparations one would make for any disaster that would leave you without adequate food and water supplies, or access to emergency services for an extended period.
I suggest taking the following steps:
Start Stockpiling Emergency Supplies: The first thing you need to do, is make sure you have your essential needs covered. In the case of a pandemic, the essentials include water, shelter, food, sanitation, medications, and personal security. During a Pandemic, the less contact you have with others, the better your chances are of staying healthy.
Previous pandemics have gone through communities in a matter of six to eight weeks; at a minimum, you should have at least a six to eight weeks’ worth of emergency supplies on hand at all times. Once you have that covered, you can then set a goal to stockpile enough for 3, 6 and then 12 months.
Social Distancing is the Key to Avoiding the Outbreak: The best way to improve your chances of staying healthy during an outbreak is to practice social distancing. This means limiting your contact with others, and staying at least 6 feet away from people if you do have to go out.
Stay Clean & Practice Good Hygiene: Just like with all person to person disease, the key to prevention lies in good hygiene. Hand washing is obvious, and when used for 30 seconds even a simple alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which has between 62 and 75% ethanol, can be enough to kill nearly any pandemic pathogen.
Hospitals & Shelters Should Be Avoided: If you’re sick, then, by all means, you probably need to consult with a medical professional for medical advice. That being said, hospitals will be ground zero in the war and should be avoided if at all possible. Also, if you can, avoid shelters or areas where large groups of people gather, as the disease spreads more quickly in those environments.
When venturing Out, Wear a Mask: In my opinion, masks are a last resort and cannot be relied on to 100% stop infection. Respirators are designed to help reduce, not eliminate exposures to disease. With that being said, having some N95 Medical Masks is something that should be in any good emergency kit.