The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been going on for more than a year, during which time we have seen much suffering, death, and instability in daily life.
However, significant illness epidemics have influenced much of world history.
How individuals reacted to their faith, jobs, and government was dramatically altered as the Black Death pandemic swept Europe and Asia.
Societies have been plagued by disease for thousands of years, and the United States is no different.
Worst Outbreaks in U.S. History
1. Smallpox spread by European settlers: 1633-1634
In the 1600s, smallpox spread in North America. The symptoms were high temperature, chills, excruciating back pain, and rashes. It started in the Northeast, and as it moved west, it devastated the Native American population.
In 1721, out of the 11,000 people living in Boston, more than 6,000 cases were recorded. Eight hundred fifty people died as a result of the illness.
Edward Jenner created a cowpox vaccine in 1770. Without spreading the illness, it aids the body in developing an immunity to smallpox.
1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that immunizations had eradicated smallpox globally. End of smallpox immunization.
Smallpox was regarded as one of the deadliest infectious diseases before the development of the smallpox vaccination. The 20th century saw the deaths of 300 million individuals from smallpox.
2. Yellow fever spread from the Caribbean: 1793
Yellow fever spread from the Caribbean Islands to Philadelphia during one humid summer in the late 1700s. Nearly 50 years later, yellow fever swept into Norfolk, Virginia, in 1855, but the Mississippi River Valley experienced the most significant outbreak to ever hit the United States in 1878.
Thousands of refugees came to America's coastlines in the spring of 1878 from the Caribbean, which acted as another epicenter of the outbreak, to avoid coming into touch with the fever. The Quarantine Act of 1878, approved by President Rutherford B. Hayes, allowed the Marine Hospital Service to prohibit immigrants from arriving on land by ship.
The region recorded over 120,000 instances of the fever in the spring and summer of 1878, along with roughly 13,000 to 20,000 fatalities. Fever, a yellowish tint to the skin and eyes, and bloody vomiting were all brought on by the fever.
Over fifteen percent of the city's population fled to escape the fatal disease as the outbreak began in New Orleans and quickly traveled up the valley. Similar to the coronavirus, the yellow fever affected various industries. Infected cities saw a population decline, the economy suffered, and thousands died. Later, a vaccine was created and granted distribution permission.
It wasn't until 1900 that scientists determined that a kind of mosquito native to Africa and tropical climes was the source of the disease.
Currently, mosquitoes play a crucial role in the spread of this disease, especially in regions like Central America, South America, and Africa. Yellow fever has been successfully managed by eliminating mosquitoes.
Although there is no treatment for yellow fever, those who do recover gain lifetime immunity.
3. Cholera in three waves: 1832-1866
Between 1832 and 1866, cholera struck the world in three waves, killing 150,000 Americans.
The pandemic quickly spread worldwide through trade networks after starting in India.
Like the coronavirus, New York City was the first significant city to feel the epidemic's effects, as approximately 5,000 individuals died from infection.
During the outbreak, between 5 and 10 percent of the population in major cities perished.
The cause of the pandemic's end is unknown. However, it could have been a shift in the climate or the implementation of quarantine procedures. The early 1900s saw the end of outbreaks.
Cholera can be fatal; it is essential to receive treatment right away. Antibiotics, zinc supplementation, and rehydration are all part of the treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cholera accounts for almost 95,000 deaths worldwide. Thousands of individuals have been affected by cholera, although advanced sewage and water treatment have helped stop further virus spread.
The most straightforward approach to avoid contracting cholera is to avoid drinking contaminated water and routinely wash your hands with soap and water.
4. Scarlet fever: 1858
A bacterial infection known as scarlet fever can follow strep throat. Epidemics of scarlet fever occurred in waves, just like cholera.
Children aged 5 to 15 are most frequently affected with scarlet fever.
Children under three rarely develop it. Adults are in greater danger when they interact with ill children.
Older theories claimed that scarlet fever decreased due to a better diet, but current evidence points to public health advancements as the most likely cause.
Currently, no vaccine protects against scarlet fever or strep throat. It's critical for those with strep throat symptoms to get help right away. Your doctor frequently uses antibiotics to treat scarlet fever.
5. “Typhoid Mary”:1906-1907
In New York, typhoid fever epidemics of historic levels occurred during 1906 and 1907.
Approximately 122 New Yorkers contracted the bacterial infection from Mary Mallon, sometimes known as "Typhoid Mary," while she worked as a cook on an estate and in a hospital unit.
Five of the 122 New Yorkers who got sick from Mary Mallon died. According to the CDC, there were thirteen thousand one hundred sixty fatalities overall in 1906 and 12,670 deaths overall in 1907.
Medical examinations revealed Mallon to be a typhoid carrier in good health. Sickness and the development of red spots on the chest and abdomen might result from typhoid fever.
Typhoid fever was first treated with antibiotics in 1948, and a vaccine was created in 1911.
Typhoid fever is now uncommon. However, consuming contaminated food or drink, as well as close contact with those who are infected with the virus, are other ways that it can spread.
6. Spanish flu: 1918
According to the CDC, the influenza pandemic, also known as the "Spanish flu," that affected the United States was the worst in recent memory.
H1N1 caused the flu, but no one could agree on or definitively understand where the virus originated.
Between 1918 and 1919, the flu rapidly spread worldwide, infecting almost one-third of humanity.
Following the discovery of the first case among military personnel, there were 675,000 deaths in the US, with mortality rates highest in children under five, persons in their 20s to 40s, and people aged 65 and beyond.
Federal officials and public health professionals advised individuals to isolate, quarantine, practice excellent personal cleanliness, use disinfectants, and minimize gatherings because there was no vaccination to stop future transmission.
The number of flu cases slowly decreased following World War I. At the time, none of the remedies suggested (wearing masks, consuming coal oil, etc.) worked. Bed rest, hydration intake, and antiviral medicines are currently used as therapies.
Currently, influenza strains evolve annually, decreasing the efficacy of previous immunizations. To reduce your risk of getting the flu, annual immunization is crucial.
7. Diphtheria epidemic: 1921-1925
With 206,000 cases, diphtheria reached its peak in 1921. The mucous membranes, especially those in your throat, expand, making it difficult to breathe and swallow.
A bacterial toxin can occasionally enter circulation and fatally harm the heart and nerves.
A vaccination against the bacterial illness was approved by scientists by the middle of the 1920s. Infection rates fell dramatically in the US.
According to the CDC, over 80% of children in the United States are currently immunized. Antibiotics are used to treat the disease's victims.
8. The peak of polio: 1916-1955
Paralysis is a common symptom of the viral illness polio, which damages the nervous system. Direct contact with infected individuals is how HIV spreads.
The polio epidemic, regarded as the most dreaded illness of the twentieth century, invaded the United States multiple times during the 1900s, with the outbreak of 1952 marking the year when the number of cases reported nationwide peaked.
Over 57,000 Americans contracted the disease that year, and more than 3,000 people died.
The Dr. Jonas Salk vaccination was authorized in 1955. It spread fast throughout the entire world. The average number of cases fell to 910 by 1962. According to the CDC, polio has not existed in the US since 1979.
Now, it's crucial to get vaccinated before traveling. Polio does not have a treatment. Complications are avoided, and comfort levels are raised throughout treatment.
9. H2N2 flu: 1957
Again, there was a significant flu outbreak in 1957. initially discovered in Singapore in February 1957 and later in Hong Kong in April 1957, the H2N2 virus was initially identified in birds.
It first appeared in American coastal communities in the summer of 1957.
According to estimates, there were 116,000 fatalities in the United States and 1.1 million worldwide.
Because it was discovered early, this pandemic is regarded as moderate. Scientists could produce a vaccine based on the knowledge gained from developing the first flu vaccine in 1942.
H2N2 no longer spreads among people but still infects pigs and birds. In the future, it's feasible to spread the virus from animals to people once more.
10. Second measles outbreak: 1981-1991
A virus known as measles can cause fever, runny nose, coughing, red eyes, sore throats, and a rash that covers the entire body.
It's an airborne illness that is highly contagious. Before the vaccine, almost all children contracted the measles. Insufficient immunization rates brought on most incidents in the second half of the 20th century.
Doctors started advising everyone to get a second vaccination. Since then, there have typically been fewer than 1,000 occurrences yearly, but in 2019, this number was surpassed.
Currently, measles outbreaks in the US have been less severe recently. According to the CDC, unvaccinated tourists who travel overseas risk getting sick. They spread it to those without the vaccine when they return to the United States.
Make sure you get all the recommended immunizations from your doctor.
11. Contaminated water in Milwaukee: 1993
Cryptosporidium, a parasite that causes the ailment known as cryptosporidiosis, was found in one of Milwaukee's two water treatment facilities. Dehydration, fever, stomach pains, and diarrhea are among the symptoms.
The greatest waterborne outbreak in American history, according to an early investigation by the Water Quality & Health Council, infected 403,000 people and claimed 69 lives.
Most people were able to heal themselves. Most of those who passed away had weak immune systems.
Presently, cryptosporidiosis remains an ongoing issue. According to the CDC, infections rose 13% between 2009 and 2017. In every given year, the number of cases and outbreaks varies.
Cryptosporidium can spread through contact with contaminated feces, food, water, or soil. It is one of the most frequent illnesses associated with summertime recreational water use, and it is easily contagious among farm animals or in childcare facilities.
When camping or after interacting with animals, be sure to maintain good personal hygiene, such as washing your hands. If you have diarrhea, avoid swimming.
12. H1N1 flu: 2009
The H1N1 virus was discovered in the United States in the spring of 2009, and it soon spread throughout the nation and the rest of the world. The swine flu made news due to this outbreak.
The CDC calculates 12,469 fatalities, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 60.8 million cases nationwide.
According to estimates, 80% of the deaths associated with this outbreak happened among people under 65 worldwide.
Everyone who desired the H1N1 vaccine may have it before the end of December 2009. Levels of virus activity started to decline.
The seasonal H1N1 strain still circulates, but it is less deadly and hospitalizes fewer people. Every year, influenza strains change, decreasing the efficacy of the previous year's immunizations. To reduce your risk of getting the flu, annual immunization is crucial.
13. Whooping cough: 2010, 2014
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is one of the most prevalent infections in the US and is highly contagious. These episodes of coughing can continue for months.
The risk of life-threatening illnesses is higher in infants too young for vaccination. Ten newborns perished during the initial outbreak.
Every three to five years, whooping cough outbreaks happen. According to the CDC, increased instances will probably become the "new normal."
Now, The disease is significantly less common than it was. According to the CDC, all people should get the vaccine, but pregnant women should have it during their third trimester to maximize protection for the baby.
Additionally, getting the vaccine is advised for all kids and anyone who hasn't had it before.
14. HIV and AIDS: 1980s to present
Scientists thought the HIV pandemic was a rare lung infection when it first appeared in the United States in the 1980s. After doing scientific research, the country learned that HIV weakens the body's immune system, making it less able to fight off other infections.
HIV can be passed from person to person sexually, by blood or body fluids, or, if untreated, from the mother to an unborn child.
The CDC reports that among Americans aged 25 to 34, AIDS, the terminal stage of HIV, was the ninth greatest cause of death in 2018. It's not a given that someone with HIV will go on to acquire AIDS.
For high-risk populations, pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, is a means to prevent HIV infection before exposure. Two medications are found in the pill (marketed under the name Truvada) and combined with other medications to treat HIV.
These drugs can help prevent HIV from becoming a chronic infection in those exposed to it through sexual activity or drug injection.
According to the CDC, the world can control the HIV epidemic without a vaccine or treatment while creating the foundation for the eventual elimination of HIV for the first time in modern history.
High-risk groups must be treated with treatment and prevention to control the epidemic.
Although there is no known treatment for HIV, the risk of transmission can be reduced by taking precautions, including using clean needles and using barrier methods during sex.
Some precautions can be taken during pregnancy to stop the syndrome from spreading from mother to fetus.
PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a novel antiviral drug, is used in emergencies to stop HIV from emerging within 72 hours.
15. COVID-19: 2020
In late 2019, Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, reported the discovery of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. In the neighborhood, it appears to expand quickly and consistently.
Worldwide cases have been reported, and as of late May 2020, there have been over 1.5 million infections and over 100,000 fatalities in the US.
The elderly and those with prior medical illnesses, such as diabetes or heart or lung disease, seem more susceptible to the disease's potentially fatal complications.
Key symptoms comprise:
- dry cough
- trouble breathing
Past pandemics had an enormous effect on the values of the human race.
On the one hand, they have impacted the economy, society, and mental health while also causing millions of fatalities.
However, they resulted in critical scientific advancements such as the discovery of quarantine, the creation of vaccinations, and new treatment techniques.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that we must still be equipped to identify new disease pandemics, anticipate their development, or stop their spread. There is an unmet need to raise knowledge of and practice pandemic preparedness to lessen the severe load on healthcare systems.
Additionally, it serves as a sharp reminder of the gap in access to healthcare between those who can afford it and those who cannot, particularly in nations without universal coverage.
For crisis management of infectious disease pandemics, national health policy agencies should prioritize extensive testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and vaccine research.
Future research should improve methods to stop the onset of fresh pandemics and establish a consistent response.