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The World Health Organization’s definition of a pandemic is “the worldwide spread of a new disease.” The new disease must be infectious and contagious. Most people do not have immunity to it. An influenza pandemic happens when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads around the world. Influenza pandemics are different from seasonal recurrences of influenza although some aspects of the two may appear similar.
Pandemics can also affect agricultural organisms such as livestock, crops, fish, plant and tree species, as well as other organisms.
Pandemics In History
Most pandemics caused by viruses originated from animal influenza viruses. Significant pandemics recorded in human history include the Plague of Athens, Antonine Plague, the Plague of Justinian, Black Death, third plague pandemic, and Spanish flu. These pandemics were generally zoonosis, which occurred as a result of the domestication of animals. Black Death is also known as Pestilence. It is one of the most devastating plagues in human history. Black Death caused the death of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Europe and Asia. The pandemic was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The pandemic is estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population.
The Spanish flu is also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic. It was caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. The pandemic affected 500 million globally and is estimated to have killed 50-100 million people, including those in the Arctic and the remote Pacific islands. Other notable plagues in history were as a result of diseases such as typhoid fever, smallpox, bubonic plague, tuberculosis, cholera, measles, leprosy, malaria, Ebola virus, yellow fever and Zika virus.
Recent pandemics include the HIV pandemic and the 2009 Swine flu pandemic.
The 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic was an influenza pandemic. 11-21% of the global population contracted the disease. The pandemic resulted in the death of 14, 286 people.
HIV is a global pandemic that originated from Africa and spread to the rest of the World. An estimated 37.9 million people are infected with HIV globally. The highest infection rates are among men (57%). In southern and eastern Africa, infection rates are as high as 25%. Infection rates are slowing down in several African countries, thanks to effective education about safer sexual practices and control of blood-borne infections. However, infection rates in Asia and the Americas are on the rise. The death toll is estimated to reach 90-100 million by 2025.
Concerns About Future Pandemics
It is feared that in the future, there could be the re-emergence of diseases which are currently controlled today. Thanks to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms in diseases such as tuberculosis. Besides, viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola virus disease, Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lassa fever virus, are highly contagious. If not contained, these viruses can easily cause pandemics and widespread harm.
Other organisms of concern are the coronavirus, influenza virus and the Zika Virus. The risk of such organisms being used as biological warfare remains a global concern.
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