Comparison of COVID-19 Outbreak with Past Pandemics

The novel coronavirus outbreak has rapidly spread, affecting almost 183 countries and millions of people around the world. The WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11. Typically, the word Pandemic means the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease.’

Currently, many countries are under complete lockdown, which includes travel restrictions and curfews to contain the spread of infection. It is believed that the origin of coronavirus is bats. Usual symptoms of coronavirus mimic those of common cold or flu. However, some of the characteristic symptoms of coronavirus include joint pain, loss of taste and smell, dry cough, and high-grade fever.


There have been many pandemic disease outbreaks in the past. Some of them include HIV, SARS, swine flu, and cholera. Today’s article will provide an overview of past pandemic outbreaks.

An overview of COVID-19

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets. It was first found in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Since then, the novel coronavirus has affected around 3,426,437 people worldwide. (1)

Moreover, it is continuing to affect the lives of millions of other people around the world. Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include –

  • Fever with chills
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Blue lips and face
  • Muscle ache

Currently, there is no vaccine or a definite treatment for the novel coronavirus. However, several trials are going on to find the best suitable cure for this deadly disease.

A Chronological comparison of the past pandemic outbreaks with COVID-19


Influenza is still dated as of the deadliest pandemics in the history of disease spread. It occurred for the first time in 1918 and affected around 500 million people worldwide. Influenza mainly affected people under the age of 50 years. (3)

Moreover, it was the first viral outbreak in the world that spread through respiratory droplets. Some of the common symptoms of influenza are similar to that of novel coronaviruses such as fever, nausea, and diarrhea.

Even till date, there is no definite treatment for influenza. A combination of antibiotics and antiviral therapy is used to treat the virus. However, this treatment has not shown any promising results.

pandemics in recent history infographic


Cholera is one of the unique diseases of the past that reached a pandemic proportion almost seven times in two centuries. The time between 1961-1975 is considered as the seventh cholera pandemic.

Typically, cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine caused by Vibrio cholera. The usual mode of transmission includes the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Additionally, common symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. The first outbreak of cholera began in Indonesia, and it rapidly spread, affecting four million people worldwide.

The treatment for cholera includes immediate rehydration. Access to hygienic food and safe drinking water plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of cholera.

HIV Pandemic

The HIV pandemic started in 1981 and presented cases to date. During its outbreak, HIV affected more than 32 million people around the world. Since the episode, there has been tremendous improvement in the treatment and diagnostic modalities.

Typically, HIV is also caused by a virus. However, there are a few differences between the HIV and the novel coronavirus. The most common difference is that unlike COVID-19, HIV cannot be spread through respiratory droplets during cough and sneeze. Moreover, there is no current treatment for the novel coronavirus. However, HIV can be treated with antiretroviral medications.

SARS- severe acute respiratory syndrome

SARS pandemic occurred between the years 2002-2004. The SARS virus is another type of coronavirus that presents some similarities with the novel coronavirus. Both diseases are spread through respiratory droplets.

Unlike COVID-19, the SARS virus mainly affected patients older than 60 years of age. Moreover, it accounted for 15% of the mortality rate. One of the deadly things about SARS is that there is no treatment or cure yet. However, some antiviral therapy has shown to slow the disease progression. (3)

Swine flu (H1N1)

The sine flu pandemic occurred between the year 2009-2010. Swine flu is mainly caused by the H1N1 virus, which affected around 60.8 million people around the world.  The swine flu virus is similar to the new coronavirus in terms of symptoms produced, which includes fever with chills, dry cough, and headache.

Unlike the novel coronavirus, which affects people of all age groups, most fatalities caused by H1N1 occurred in people under the age of 65. Moreover, many researchers noticed that a large number of people affected by swine flu had in-build immunity against the virus. (4)

this is not the case with COVID-19. Older adults are at a higher risk of developing a severe illness. Moreover, there have been no cases where people showed in-build immunity for the novel coronavirus.

Ebola outbreak

Ebola is an exceptionally infectious disease that became a pandemic between the years 2014-2016. The mode of transmission of Ebola is typically through body fluids like blood and sweat. During its outbreak, Ebola accounted for the death of 50% of the infected people. (5)

Typical symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle ache, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. Usually, oral hydration and supportive care have shown to ease the symptoms of Ebola.

Looking at the data given above, there are significant differences between the past pandemic outbreaks and COVID-19. In every case, social distancing and quarantine measures are the key roles to protect yourself from the disease spread.

Take away message

COVID-19 has become a terrifying disease all around the world, affecting millions of lives. Within three months from its initial outbreak, the novel coronavirus managed to become a Pandemic.


The past pandemic outbreaks reflect that COVID-19 is not the first deadly disease that has threatened the humankind around the world. Cholera, Ebola, SARS, HIV, and swine flu are some of the common and more infectious diseases that affected the world with a great impact.

Moreover, these diseases persist in the modern world. It will undoubtedly take a long time to fight with COVID-19 and get a proper vaccine or treatment. Additionally, it also reminds us that the new coronavirus spread will not be the last Pandemic in this world.


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