As of November of 2020, there have been more than 56 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. While 39 million of those have recovered, the virus has claimed the lives of over 1.3 million people, with many cases still active.
While an outbreak of this size and severity is a new experience for most of us, it is hardly unique. Many such outbreaks have happened throughout history, and without the benefit of modern medicine, they have resulted in far higher death tolls than COVID-19.
To put it in perspective, here are some of the outbreaks that past generations have gone through.
There are records of what is believed to have been Smallpox as far back as 300 BC in ancient Egypt. The disease is believed to have killed three out of every ten people who contracted it, and it has persisted all the way to the modern era. It wasn't until 1980 that vaccination efforts managed to eradicate the virus worldwide.
Known as the Black Death, the Bubonic plague first appeared in Europe and Asia in the mid-1330s and continued on until the early 1350s. The US had an epidemic in Los Angeles as recently as 1924. While antibiotics are available to treat the disease when caught early, the disease is still present, with around 1,000-3,000 cases annually around the world. The bubonic plague is believed to have killed more than 20 million people in Europe alone.
Believed to have been around since the 4th century BC, the first known Cholera pandemic began in India in 1817, with a second occurring in 1829. This second outbreak became a pandemic, spreading through Europe, and North America. There were multiple Cholera pandemics between the years of 1852 and 1923, and outbreaks continue even today, with approximately 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths annually across the world. The spread of Cholera can be prevented with proper sanitation and clean drinking water.
The Spanish Flu
Caused a type of H1N1 flu virus, the Spanish Flu was first identified in the US in 1918. The spread of the virus was likely expedited by troop movements during World War I, with the virus infecting 500 million people across the world. More than 50 million people died from this variant of the flu. The pandemic was eventually stopped through quarantine, disinfectants, and improvements in personal hygiene.
Spread by a parasite carried by mosquitos, malaria has likely existed since the Stone Age and is still around today. Most cases are now in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, as a program started by the World Health Organization in 1955 helped to eliminate the disease in many parts of the world. Currently, there are about 2,000 cases of malaria diagnosed in the world annually.
Fortunately for us, research on COVID-19 has progressed quickly and promising vaccines are already in development. In the meantime, practices like ours are using modern medical knowledge to help prevent the spread of infection through safety protocols that keep both our dental team and our patients safe.