By Khin Maung Myint
The latest outbreak of the new human infectious disease is officially named the “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease” (where ‘n’ is for novel and ‘CoV’ is for coronavirus). This name complies with the WHO Best Practices for Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases. It is also referred as the Covid-19 in short, which emerged towards the end of 2019 in Wuhan in the Hubei Province, China had already been declared as a pandemic by the WHO. Its spread is overwhelmingly unprecedented, spurred on by the efficiency and the ease of accessibility of the modern day transportation systems to all corner of the globe. Such outbreaks are defined as epidemic or pandemic depending on whether the spread of the disease is confined in one particular area or has it crossed borders and continents, but not based on the numbers of affected or the death tolls.
Although the Ebola outbreak claimed many lives, but as it was confined to Africa, thus defined only as an epidemic. Whereas the Covid-19 has reached almost every continent and is affecting 184 countries and territories as this article is being written and although the numbers affected and the death tolls are not much, it has become a pandemic.
Unnecessary cause for panic
A few days ago, the Covid-19 had caused an unnecessary panic-buying around the world — especially in the West and some affluent countries elsewhere. As the disease had spread to faraway places like Italy, Iran, Spain, France, Australia, the US, some Asian countries and some other countries around the world, some hard-hit countries began locking down cities and eventually the whole country. People were worried they would starve if they cannot go out to buy foods or the foods might be out of stock due to the lockdown. Thus in some places, people went on panic-buying sprees. There were very ugly rampaging scenes at shopping malls and groceries where the behaviours of the populace even turned wild.
This is not the first time that the world is hit by such outbreaks of pandemic proportions. There were many in the past that were several times worse than the present one. By writing thus, I am not trying to let the people ignore the threats of this deadly virus. However, we should be rational in our views and not to be blindly led by exaggerated and dramatized media reports to become panic- stricken. Some foreign media aired video footages of people scrambling to buy food stuffs at shopping malls and groceries and the rows of empty shelves to lead the people to believe that foods are out of stock. However, in reality in such melee the staffs at those shopping malls and groceries wouldn’t dare to restock the shelves while the customers are still there, behaving like wild people rampaging and grabbing everything in sight. However, that situation is now under control in most countries.
According to the latest news as of 18 March, the situations in China was totally under control. Also a few countries had managed to find cures for the disease. First Israel declared it had found a cure and next was Germany. The new vaccines are expected to be available soon. Even our neighbour, Thailand had found the right cure using a mixture of two or more existing vaccines early on and thus there was only one Covid-19 related death up to date. Thailand has also invented a very handy and simple kit to test the disease for household use, which they will be selling at affordable price soon. Because of the advancements of the efficiency of transportation, the spread was rapid and wide and now because of the advancements of technologies in the medical field, the right cures were discovered so soon. Now China is helping others in the fight against the Covid-19 with the experiences and expertise they had gained. Credit should be given to China for the drastic and effective quarantining and locking down cities that contributed much to the speedy curbing of the spread of disease in their country. Others should copy their procedures.
Having said that, the past worst outbreaks that occurred around the world will need to be mentioned here briefly. By knowing about those past outbreaks and their intensities, people could gauge how the present situations compare to them. After reading them, hopefully most will be somewhat relieved and definitely there will be less anxieties about the threats of the disease and people will feel more clamer and panicking will be greatly reduced.
10 of the worst pandemics in history
Antonine Plague (165 AD). Also known as the Plague of Galen affected Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, and Italy and is thought to have been either Smallpox or Measles, though the true cause is still unknown. This disease was brought back to Rome by soldiers returning from Mesopotamia around 165AD; unknowingly, they had spread a disease which killed over 5 million people and decimated the Roman army.
Plague of Justinian (541-542) it was an outbreak of the bubonic plague that afflicted the Byzantine Empire and Mediterranean port cities, estimated to have wiped out half the population of Europe, killing up to 25 million people in its year-long reign of terror. It was the first recorded incident of the Bubonic plague that killed up to a quarter of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean and at its height, it was killing an estimated 5,000 people per day.
The Black Death (1346-1353) It was an outbreak of the Plague that ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia, with an estimated death toll between 75 and 200 million people. Thought to have originated in Asia, the Plague most likely jumped continents via the fleas living on the rats that so frequently lived aboard merchant ships.
Third Cholera Pandemic (1852–1860) Considered the most deadly of the seven cholera pandemics, this outbreak of Cholera in the 19th century lasted from 1852 to 1860. Like the first and second pandemics, it originated in India, spreading from the Ganges River Delta before tearing through Asia, Europe, North America and Africa killing over a million people. The year 1854 went down as the worst year of the pandemic, in which 23,000 people died in Great Britain.
Flu Pandemic (1889-1890) Originally the “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu”. The first cases were observed in May 1889 in three separate and distant locations, Bukhara in Central Asia (Turkestan), Athabasca in northwestern Canada, and Greenland. Rapid population growth of the 19th century, specifically in urban areas, only helped the flu spread. This Flu Pandemic claimed the lives of over a million individuals.
Sixth Cholera Pandemic (1910-1911) Like its five predecessors, it also originated in India where it killed over 800,000, before spreading to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. This Pandemic was also the source of the last American outbreak of Cholera (1910–1911). American health authorities, having learned from the past, quickly sought to isolate or quarantine the infected, and were able to get the disease under control quickly resulting in 11 deaths only in 1923.
Flu Pandemic (1918) Between 1918 and 1920 a deadly outbreak of influenza spread across the world, infecting over a third of the world’s population killing 20 – 50 million. Out of 500 million infected in the 1918 pandemic, 25 million deaths occurred in the first 25 weeks alone.
Asian Flu (1956-1958) It originated in China in 1956 and lasted until 1958. In its two years the Asian Flu traveled from Guizhou in China to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States. Estimates for the death toll of the Asian Flu vary depending on the source, but the WHO places the final tally at approximately 2 million deaths, 69,800 of those in the US alone.
Flu Pandemic (1968) Referred to as “the Hong Kong Flu”. From the first reported case on July 13, 1968 in Hong Kong, it took only 17 days before outbreaks of the virus were reported in Singapore and Vietnam, and within three months had spread to The Philippines, India, Australia, Europe, and the United States. This pandemic had a comparatively low mortality rate, but still resulted in more than a million deaths, including 500,000 people in Hong Kong.
HIV/AIDS Pandamic (At its peak 2005-2012) First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, HIV/AIDS has truly proven itself as a global pandemic, killing more than 36 million people since 1981. Currently, there are between 31 and 35 million people living with HIV, the vast majority of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 5% of the population is infected, roughly 21 million people. As awareness has grown, new treatments have been developed that make HIV far more manageable, and many of those infected go on to lead productive lives. Between 2005 and 2012 the annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2 million to 1.6 million.
Judging on the death tolls and durations each pandemic lasted, it can safely be assumed that the present pandemic is not as dangerous as those that preceded it. Also the advancements of the medical sciences and the technologies, it is quite sure that the disease will soon be under control everywhere. Thus people should stay calm, collected, focused and abide by the emergency rules and regulations that the authorities imposed to fight the disease. Everyone must willingly subject themselves to the necessary scans and tests, observe personal hygiene by washing their hands as required and shun crowded places until the disease is totally under control. If you look closely, it will be seen that most of the past pandemics originated naturally and their spread and severities were spurred on by the humans. In the old days if there was an outbreak people flee from the affected areas causing the spread to other places.
Words of advice – do not panic, stay put, put off your travels if possible, shun crowded places, wash your hands often, especially after contacts with money and other objects that could be contaminated and quarantine yourself if necessary. There is nothing to worry about if you observe what is required of you.