Coronavirus (COVID-19) vs. Past Pandemics
Comparing Coronavirus and Past Pandemics
The 1918 Influenza
- Novel coronavirus. As with COVID-19, humans had no immunity to this flu because they had never encountered it before.
- Origin. Scientists who have re-engineered the flu strain discovered that it originated in birds but theorize that it crossed over into pigs before infecting humans.
- Mutation. The flu mutated at least once. During its first appearance in spring 1918, it did not appear particularly deadly or virulent. However, later that year, the flu mutated into a much more deadly strain, killing its victims in as little as one day.
- Infections. Scientists and historians estimate that the 1918 flu infected 500 million people around the world, one-third of the global population at the time.
- Mortality. The flu caused an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide, with about 675,000 fatalities in the U.S.
H2N2 Pandemic of 1957-58
H3N2 Pandemic of 1968
SARS Pandemic of 2003
Ebola Pandemic of 2014-2016
- Masks. Masks were as controversial during the 1918 flu pandemic as they are now, and many people refused to wear them. Many of the same concerns from 100 years ago, such as complaints that masks trap bad air and disease, persist.
- Vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy has been around as long as vaccines have been. During the late 18th century, there were fears and public outcry about the first smallpox inoculations. The current hesitancy about the coronavirus vaccine, despite its safety and efficacy, is part of this long history.
- Sanitation campaigns. In 1918, health officials asked people to stop spitting. In modern times, health guidelines instruct us to sneeze into our elbows, and hand sanitizer is everywhere.
- Quarantine. During the Black Death, coastal cities kept ships offshore and isolated to make sure they weren’t carrying the plague. Quarantine played an important role in containing SARS. Even though lockdown is effective in containing the coronavirus, resistance to self-quarantining is strong.
- Xenophobia. During COVID-19, reports of violence against Chinese and other Asians rose dramatically because of the origin of the coronavirus in China. During the Black Death, Europeans blamed Jews and other marginalized groups. The Spanish received blame for the 1918 flu pandemic, even though it had originated in the U.S., because only the Spanish press was reporting on the pandemic.