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Covid Healthline

Comparing COVID-19 with previous pandemics

In this article, we take a look back at some of the other pandemics that humans have endured. We investigate cholera, the Black Death, and the Spanish flu, among others. We will note any similarities and take lessons where we can.

Pandemics have played a role in shaping human history throughout the ages. Few people reading this today will remember outbreaks on this scale, but history shows us that although it is devastating, what we are experiencing now is nothing unusual.

For clarity, it is worth explaining what “pandemic” means. The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source define a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.”

First, we will touch on the other pandemic that is ongoing.

1981–present: HIV

With vast improvements in treatment, information, diagnostic capabilities, and surveillance in Western countries, it is easy to forget that experts still class HIV as a pandemic.

Since the early 1980s, HIV has claimed the lives of more than 32 millionTrusted Source people. At the end of 2018, around 37.9 million people were living with HIV.

Although HIV is also caused by a virus, there are significant differences between the two current pandemics; the most obvious being their means of transmission. Unlike SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, HIV cannot be transmitted by coughs and sneezes.

Comparatively, COVID-19 spreads through communities much more easily. Within a matter of weeks, SARS-CoV-2 made it to every continent on Earth except Antarctica.

Another important difference is that there are currently no drugs that can treat or prevent COVID-19. Although there is no vaccine for HIV, thanks to antiretroviral medications, people who have access to care can now live longTrusted Source and healthy lives.

2009–2010: H1N1 swine flu

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between April 2009 and April 2010, the swine flu pandemic affected an estimated 60.8 millionTrusted Source people. There were an estimated 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths.
Both swine flu and the novel coronavirus cause symptoms such as fever, chills, a cough, and headaches.
Like SARS-CoV-2, the (H1N1)pdm09 virus was also significantly different from other known strains. This meant that most people did not have any natural immunity.
Interestingly, however, some older adults did have immunity, suggestingTrusted Source that (H1N1)pdm09 or something similar might have infected large numbers of people a few decades before. Because of this immunity, 80% of fatalities occurred in people younger than 65.
This is not the case with SARS-CoV-2; all age groups seem to be equally likely to contract it, and older adults are most at risk of developing severe illness. It is possible that certain groups of people have a level of immunity against SARS-CoV-2, but researchers have not yet identified such a group.
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