Infection Control & First Aid Blog

Learning from Past Pandemics & Outbreaks

[fa icon="calendar"] 12/3/20 9:00 AM / by Megan Malke

1918 Spanish flu hospital

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most severe in recent history, it isn't the first pandemic, and it will not likely be the last. All pandemics and epidemics leave some imprint on human behavior; COVID-19 is no exception. While we take lessons from past pandemics, the one lesson to carry into the future will be preparing for future outbreaks.

According to the WHO, a pandemic is defined as the "worldwide spread of a new disease." We have experienced seven notable epidemics or pandemics since 1918.

1918 Flu Pandemic (H1N1 virus): 1918-1920

The 1918 influenza pandemic, also known as the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, took the lives of anywhere from 50-100 million people around the world. The so-called "Spanish Flu" was caused by an H1N1 virus that spread from birds to humans. The 1918 Flu Pandemic remains the worst in history. Like the current pandemic, the most effective immediate response was-and is- social distancing, limiting gatherings, hand hygiene, and use of disinfectants.

1957 Flu Pandemic (H2N2 virus): 1957-1958

The 1957 influenza pandemic took the lives of roughly 1.1 million people worldwide. This virus was also spread from birds to humans and primarily affected people between the ages of 5-39.

1968 Flu Pandemic (H3N2 Virus): 1968-1969

In 1968, the H3N2 virus took the lives of around 1 million people around the world. Unlike other flu pandemics, this one affected older people, who had the highest mortality rate of the outbreak. The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus.

1968 Flu

SARS-CoV: 2002-2003

The 2002 SARS coronavirus outbreak was a viral pneumonia-like epidemic that took the lives of over 770 people. The transmission source remains unknown.

Swine Flu (H1N1pdm09 virus): 2009

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 pandemic in August 2010. The Swine Flu outbreak was the next big influenza pandemic that caused the deaths of between 151,700 and 575,400 people around the world. The H1N1 virus variant originated from pigs and spread through human-to-human contact. Infection rates were higher for children and young adults as antibodies against the virus were present in people aged 60 or higher.

Since 2009, the H1N1 virus has been known as a regular human flu virus. It continues to spread during flu season like other strains of the flu. 

MERS-CoV: 2012-2013

The 2012 MERS coronavirus caused a severe respiratory illness that had a 34 percent mortality rate and took the lives of 858 people, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula. The MERS outbreak was caused by a coronavirus that spread from an unknown animal source to humans.

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2): 2019-ongoing

SARS-CoV-2 is a new illness caused by a previously unknown coronavirus. The infection rate, mortality rate, and other statistics are still developing. The thing we do know is, the world was mostly unprepared for a pandemic of this magnitude.


The Takeaway

As soon as each crisis is over, we all want to forget rather than use our collective experience. What is the takeaway from COVID-19? We all need to prepare to defend against infectious diseases, and not only amid a pandemic. How will we fight a major war on the next infectious disease without a fully supplied arsenal and battle plans in place? When COVID-19 first landed in the United States, there were massive supply shortages, not only in the healthcare sector but all across all industries looking to keep their facilities and even personal residences safe and clean.

At a time like this, with the pandemic surging once again, it is best to remember an old adage: those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Made in America, for America

Born out of the AIDS Epidemic, Safetec has been there throughout every outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic since 1986 with quality products that help stop the spread of infectious disease. From pandemics to everyday life, Safetec offers you end to end protection from bloodborne pathogens and HAIs to bacterial infections and viruses and everything in between.

At Safetec of America, we take a lot of pride in the fact that the products we work on end up helping people stay safe and lower infection risk. As a trusted infection control and first aid OTC product manufacturer for over 28 years, Safetec strives to keep people safe from infectious disease.




Topics: COVID-19, Infection Control & Prevention

Megan Malke

Written by Megan Malke

As the Digital Marketing Strategist, Megan works on developing and executing programs to improve Safetec's online engagement and user experience.