How did the Spanish flu and other pandemics, epidemics and outbreaks end?

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Spanish Flu, Bubonic Plague and Polio: How Did Other Pandemics, Epidemics and Outbreaks End?

Spanish Flu, Bubonic Plague and Polio: How Did Other Pandemics, Epidemics and Outbreaks End?

Over 600 years of pandemic history
How did the Spanish flu and other pandemics, epidemics and outbreaks end?

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With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic potentially in sight, now is a better time than ever to look back on the unraveling of past pandemics, epidemics and disease outbreaks. Some were done in by vaccines or mass quarantine campaigns. Others seemingly poofed out of existence or tapered off once humans and animals developed greater resistance. Read on to see how the following 12 health crises began and what ultimately led to their demise.

The Black Death: What was it?

The Black Death: What was it?

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From 1347 to 1350, more than 50 million people lost their lives during a pandemic we now call the Black Death. A true triple threat, the Black Death was marked by three forms of the plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. First, the plague ravaged Asia. Then, along trade routes overrun by rodents, deadly infections spread westward toward North Africa and Europe. A quarter of Europe’s population succumbed to the disease.

The Black Death: How did it end?

The Black Death: How did it end?

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Starting in 1348, officials in Venice required arriving ships from infected ports to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. The word quarantine thus derives from quaranta giorni, Italian for 40 days. During the same period, people practiced social distancing to avoid catching the disease. Doctors rejected patients and storekeepers closed up shop. While this helped curb the pandemic’s spread, the lack of scientific knowledge meant the plague never really went away. Pandemic flare-ups recurred repeatedly for centuries.

The Great Plague of London: What was it?

The Great Plague of London: What was it?

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An epidemic, not a pandemic, the Great Plague of London was one of the plague’s most disastrous recurrences. The earliest cases popped up in the spring of 1665 and the death rate rose that summer. Suddenly in winter 1665, the mortality rate decreased and continued to dwindle for the remainder of that year and the next. While records indicate that more than 68,000 people — 15% of the city population — died during those years in England, the total death toll is suspected to be somewhere over 100,000.  

The Great Plague of London: How did it end?

The Great Plague of London: How did it end?

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While it is often suspected that the plague was brought to its end by cold weather and the disastrous and sweeping Great Fire of London in September 1666, that’s not the case. Instead, scientists suggest the sudden end may be chalked up to spontaneity or a greater resistance to the plague in both the rats who hosted infected fleas and humans who contract them.

The US smallpox pandemic: What was it?

The US smallpox pandemic: What was it?

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Having already wreaked global havoc, smallpox decimated Indigenous populations across the Americas following colonization. While disproportionately impacting native groups, smallpox killed on average three out of every 10 people who contracted it. Anyone who survived was left with severe scarring. Boston, in particular, was hit by several outbreaks during the 18th century, leading to the deaths of about 8% of the population.

The US smallpox pandemic: How did it end?

The US smallpox pandemic: How did it end?

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To treat smallpox, people first tried variolation, scratching or inhaling material from a smallpox sore. Although variolation resulted in fewer fatalities, the real breakthrough came in 1796. That year, English doctor Edward Jenner (shown in this photo) used material from a cowpox sore to produce the first-ever successful vaccine. After a global immunization and surveillance effort in 1967, smallpox was eradicated by 1977.

6 consecutive cholera pandemics: What were they?

Six consecutive cholera pandemics: What were they?

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During the 19th century, the world was plagued by six consecutive cholera pandemics. No corner of the Earth was left untouched by the disease from the start of the first pandemic in 1817 to the end of the sixth in 1923. Millions of people across all continents were killed. The third pandemic is often considered the deadliest, having severely affected countries throughout Africa and Europe plus the United States.

6 consecutive cholera pandemics: How did they end?

Six consecutive cholera pandemics: How did they end?

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Italian scientist Filippo Pacini in 1854 and German physician Robert Koch in 1884 both successfully isolated the bacterium that causes cholera and discovered how it transmits through food, water and clothes. Health and sanitation improvements influenced by these discoveries kept the U.S. and Western Europe unaffected by the sixth cholera pandemic that ravaged Russia, India, Arabia and Northern Africa. The seventh cholera pandemic began in 1961 and continues today across Africa.

The American polio epidemic: What was it?

The American polio epidemic: What was it?

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The nation’s first large-scale polio epidemic broke out in New York City in 1916. In total nationwide, 27,000 cases were contracted and 6,000 people died. For the next four decades, local epidemics across the U.S. worsened as the virus struck children and surged in the summer. In about 95% of polio cases, patients were asymptomatic. However, 1% to 2% of people became paralyzed. Some recovered completely while others were paralyzed for life. A record 57,628 polio cases were reported in the U.S. in 1952 alone.

The American polio epidemic: How did it end?

The American polio epidemic: How did it end?

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As outbreaks occurred across the country, public health officials imposed quarantines to separate adults and children who may have been exposed to the virus from others in their communities. Travel and commerce between affected cities were also regulated. In 1947, Dr. Jonas Salk began work on a vaccine to wipe out polio. National testing for Salk’s vaccine began in 1954. Results were announced a year later, the vaccine was made available, and by 1962, yearly cases dropped from the tens of thousands to 910.

1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu): What was it?

1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu): What was it?

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Marked by an unusually high mortality rate in healthy people ages 20 to 40, the 1918 flu pandemic infected roughly 500 million people. One-third of the world’s population at the time caught the H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin and 50 million people died. In the U.S., the virus spread in three consecutive waves in 1918: spring, fall (the deadliest) and winter. Although it’s commonly referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” scientists are unsure where the flu originated.

1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu): How did it end?

1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu): How did it end?

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Worldwide, people looked to non-pharmaceutical ways of preventing virus spread like quarantine, school closures, good hygiene, limited gatherings and mask mandates. U.S. cities that implemented these interventions have been found to have mitigated the consequences of the pandemic in their communities. By summer 1919, the pandemic subsided. Infected individuals either succumbed to the illness or became immune to it for some time. Still, the pandemic had no clean end. In fact, every influenza A pandemic since has been caused by descendants of the 1918 H1N1 virus.

1957-1958 pandemic (H2N2 virus): What was it?

1957-1958 pandemic (H2N2 virus): What was it?

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The 1957 H2N2 influenza, a reassorted version of the 1918 virus, was first spread throughout Singapore in the early months of the year. By the summer, cases were reported in the U.S. and U.K. 1.1 million people died around the globe, including 116,000 in the U.S. Symptoms varied greatly between infected people, with some experiencing life-threatening complications and others remaining largely unaffected.

1957-1958 pandemic (H2N2 virus): How did it end?

1957-1958 pandemic (H2N2 virus): How did it end?

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While the H2N2 influenza was devastating countries an ocean away in the spring of 1957, American microbiologist Maurice Hilleman obtained and studied a virus specimen from a Navy serviceman stationed in Japan. The flu was a new strain. Hilleman quickly began research on a vaccine. By the summer, as U.S. cases first showed, inoculation had already begun on military bases. Forty million doses of a vaccine were produced, allowing the U.S. to cut the pandemic’s death toll from a predicted million to 116,000.

1968 pandemic (H3N2 virus): What was it?

1968 pandemic (H3N2 virus): What was it?

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Another influenza A virus variant, the 1968 H3N2 influenza virus was made up of a new compound plus a portion of the last flu pandemic’s H2N2 virus. As a result, people who had previously been exposed to the 1957 influenza virus may have retained immunity to the new variant. The pandemic first cropped up in Hong Kong in July 1968 and in the U.S. that September. Soon, it reached as far as Central and South America, Africa and Europe. Roughly 1 million people died globally.

1968 pandemic (H3N2 virus): How did it end?

1968 pandemic (H3N2 virus): How did it end?

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A vaccine virus was provided to manufacturers in August 1968 and a superior one was supplied a month later. The first lot of 110,000 vaccine doses was released that November. By the pandemic’s peak in January 1969, 15 million doses of the vaccine were available. However, the effort was too late for many and the vaccine was phased out of production that month. Since the 1968 pandemic, the H3N2 virus has continued in circulation as the most troublesome seasonal influenza A virus. 

The American measles outbreak: What was it?

The American measles outbreak: What was it?

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From 1989 to 1990, the number of reported measles cases in the U.S. increased six to nine times the yearly average. There were 815 outbreaks. Most consisted of small clusters of a median of 12 cases. Others were larger, reaching a maximum of 10,670 people. Altogether, these outbreaks accounted for 94% of the 52,846 cases reported during that time.

The American measles outbreak: How did it end?

The American measles outbreak: How did it end?

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In affected cities like New York City, local officials like Mayor David Dinkins and others put on large-scale free vaccination and public safety campaigns. New York also became the first state to adopt a two-dose schedule for routine measles immunization. This was to target cases among already vaccinated college and high school students. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children get two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The first dose is administered between 12 and 15 months of age and the second between 4 to 6 years of age.

2009 H1N1 pandemic (swine flu): What was it?

2009 H1N1 pandemic (swine flu): What was it?

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Designated as influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 virus, this novel flu virus first emerged in the U.S. in spring 2009 before spreading around the world. The pandemic primarily affected children and middle-aged adults. This is in part because one-third of the 60-and-over population already had antibodies against the virus due to exposure to other H1N1 viruses earlier in life. The CDC estimates that during the first 12 months of the pandemic, between 151,700 and 575,400 people died worldwide from the novel infection.

2009 H1N1 pandemic (swine flu): How did it end?

2009 H1N1 pandemic (swine flu): How did it end?

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Although the (H1N1)pdm09 virus continues to circulate as a seasonal flu virus, the World Health Organization declared an end to the global 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic on Aug. 10, 2010. A (H1N1)pdm09 virus vaccine was produced and made available in late November 2009, after the peak of illness during the virus’s second wave in the U.S.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic: What was it?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic: What was it?

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A viral respiratory disease spread through air droplets, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, first emerged in February 2003 in Asia. In the span of six months, the disease spread across more than 25 countries on all continents but Antarctica. Like COVID-19, the 2003 pandemic was caused by a coronavirus, a sort of virus named for its pointed crown-like shape under a microscope. In total, 774 people died and over 8,000 were infected. 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) Epidemic: How did it end?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) Epidemic: How did it end?

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There have been no known cases of SARS since 2004. The epidemic was put to a stop after mass mobilization efforts and a winning combination of foolproof 19th-century techniques (isolation and quarantine) plus modern technologies and unprecedented collaboration between global scientists and researchers. By July 5, 2003, WHO announced that all person-to-person transmission of SARS had ceased.

West African Ebola epidemic: What was it?

West African Ebola epidemic: What was it?

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The West African Ebola epidemic of 2014 to 2016 was the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. It began in December 2013, when an 18-month-old boy in Guinea was suspected of being infected by a bat with an unidentified illness. In March 2014, WHO declared an outbreak of Ebola virus disease. Ebola quickly crossed borders into neighboring countries. Within two years, 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths were reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

West African Ebola epidemic: How did it end?

West African Ebola epidemic: How did it end?

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In March 2016 and June 2016, the outbreaks officially ended in Sierra Leone and Guinea/Liberia, respectively. Prevention programs and messaging put on at the local level, plus national and global policy implementations, helped in containing and curbing virus spread. Efforts included dayslong national lockdowns, closed schools and mass health care training programs.

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