With 10,000 deaths in just 3 months, is COVID-19 becoming one of history's worst pandemics?
Its closest relative SARS pales in comparison, which resulted in the death of 774 people globally over the course of a year
The new coronavirus is establishing itself as one of humanity's biggest killers after claiming more than 10,000 lives worldwide in just over three months since it emerged out of Wuhan. Over 244,500 people have reportedly fallen sick across the world so far.
Even its closest relative, the more deadly SARS virus, which claimed 774 lives globally pales in comparison. The new coronavirus is fast, infiltrating communities at rates that make it hard for humans to keep up. "By all serious estimates, COVID-19 is going to be a major killer," Steffanie Strathdee, the Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California San Diego's Department of Medicine, told LiveScience.
Humans fought off a pandemic just 10 years ago, in 2009. The culprit was the H1N1 virus. After detecting the virus in the US, for the first time, scientists traced its origins back to Mexico. Given its spread to countries all over the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic. The virus sickened 1.4 billion people and caused at least 151,700 deaths worldwide.
In 2010, WHO declared an end to the global 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. But it continues to circulate as a seasonal flu virus.
History of deadly outbreaks
Visual Capitalist has created an infographic capturing the various diseases that struck humans throughout history. You can find it here.
From 1347 to 1351, almost 200 million people died of a bacterial disease named Black Death, becoming the deadliest disease known to humankind. It swept through Europe and the Middle East and the last outbreak of the same emerged in France between 1720-1721.
Following Black Death is Smallpox, a disease caused by a virus named 'variola'. On average, it killed 3 out of 10 people with the disease. It killed close to 56 million before disappearing from the face of the Earth.
Ranking third is a variant of the H1N1 virus which caused the 1918 Spanish flu. First reported in North America's Kansas, the virus killed at least 50 million people across the globe.
Even before the Black Death, another related disease hit the world, killing between 30 and 50 million people, nearly half the world's population then. Arising in the sixth century AD, a disease named 'Plague of Justinian' swept across Asia, North Africa, Arabia, and Europe.
HIV stands fifth in terms of the death toll. It was responsible for the deaths of 25-35 million people worldwide. The world continues to grapple with the disease to this day, with approximately 37.9 million people have been found to be living with HIV at the end of 2018, according to the WHO. In 2018 alone, 770 000 people died from HIV-related conditions.
However, WHO has recorded a drop in the disease burden as new infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45% between 2000 and 2018, thanks to antiretroviral treatments.
Experts are yet to understand the trajectory of COVID-19. But a few scientists have predicted that we may have to practice social distancing to stem the spread until a vaccine becomes available.