Famous Outbreaks Throughout History

Gabby MartinBiohazards, Diseases

Outbreaks Throughout History

Key Points

  • The Ebola Outbreak (2013-2016)

  • Spanish Flu (Pandemic of 1918-1919)

  • SARS Outbreak (2003)

  • Swine Flu (2009)


Historical Biohazard Cases

Biohazards have affected us since the beginning of time. A biohazard refers to an organism or biological substance that threatens or endangers living organisms. It usually refers to microorganisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye. For this reason, exposure to biohazards must be limited, and remediation should be conducted by a professionally licensed crew.

Biohazards typically occur after a crime scene, trauma, suicide, gunshot wound, etc. Any incident that involves the exposure of bodily fluids or pathogens is considered a biohazardous situation. There have been many memorable incidents since the late 19th century. To name a few:

  • The 2013 Ebola Outbreak
  • The 1918 Spanish Flu
  • SARS Outbreak in 2003
  • The Swine Flu Outbreak in 2009

Per the CDC, outbreaks start out as emerging viral pathogens (EVP) in a single country and have the potential to spread globally, just as we’ve seen with the most recent pandemic monkeypox outbreak.

The Ebola Outbreak (2013-2016)

First identified in 1976, Ebola, named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo of which it was identified, is a severe and potentially lethal viral illness affecting humans and other primates. In general, Ebola is not as contagious as other diseases (e.g. measles or the common cold). It is spread through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, partner, or animal. It is not possible to transmit the virus when the person is asymptotic (not showing symptoms) of the disease.

Various Ebola outbreaks have occurred in Central and West Africa since its identification in the 1970s, however, a severe outbreak between 2013 and 2016 took centerstage around the world. It originated in Guinea and has thought to have spread from contact with infected fruit bats. It spread quickly throughout Guinea’s neighboring countries before making its way to the United States. 

The outbreak overwhelmed healthcare workers and placed a financial burden on the global economy. Most of the public was disturbed by the symptoms and high rate of fatality Ebola boasted. At the time of the outbreak, 11,000 deaths had been attributed to Ebola globally, and the symptoms appeared even worse. Within 2 to 21 days of infection, Ebola can cause fever, headaches, muscle pains, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, severe rash, skin lesions, impaired kidney and liver function, and cause internal and external bleeding. Stories about organ failure and death unsettled the masses.

Spanish Flu (Pandemic 1918-1919)

The Spanish Flu, also called the Spanish Influenza, was the earliest pandemic to occur in the post-Industrial Revolution era. It may have also been one of the more prevalent. All around the world, roughly 50-100 million people had died as a result, giving it the reputation as one of the most fatal pandemics in world history. 

It is frequently discussed in history for the disruption it caused to the economy, community, and healthcare system. It cost millions of lives and pushed the GDP down by 6%. It has become a consistent comparison example to later pandemics and outbreaks.

The lasting effects of the Spanish Influenza include:

  1. 3% of the world’s population died from the Spanish Flu
  2. Healthcare systems overburdened and could not keep up with the demand
  3. Businesses and industries temporarily or permanently closed as a result of the pandemic’s impact.
  4. Many felt depressed and anxiously impacted by the interruptions.
  5. Mass grief due to the large amounts of sicknesses and deaths.

Prior flu outbreaks hadn’t come close to the number of lives the Spanish Influenza claimed. Both the young and elderly were vulnerable. The disease spread rapidly from the soldiers during World War I and overcrowded military camps and cities. 

It has been since thought that the high mortality rate was from the virus triggering an overreaction of the immune system, much like an autoimmune disease. However, the Spanish flu led to severe respiratory complications and secondary bacterial infections, many of which situations added significantly to the overall death toll.

SARS Outbreak (2003)

In 2003, an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) swept throughout Asia and spread into a global pandemic. Over 8,000 people were infected and nearly 800 died, mainly in China and Taiwan. The main concerns of the disease were the high rate of contagion and fatality rate, leading to many shutdowns and social interruptions.

Swine Flu (2009)

The Swine Flu (also known as the H1N1 virus) is unforgettable for the 2009-2010 outbreak. It was the first outbreak of a new strain of the influenza A virus and was highly contagious. It quickly spread across the world, leading to an estimated global death toll of 18,449 people. Although the virus was relatively mild compared to other pandemics, it sparked mass panic due to its rapid spread.

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