Pandemic

A Pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that has spread through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide. A widespread endemic disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it is not a pandemic. Further, flu pandemics generally exclude recurrences of seasonal flu. Throughout history there have been a number of pandemics, such as smallpox and tuberculosis.

Cholera – From a local disease, cholera became one of the most widespread and deadly diseases of the 19th century, killing tens of millions of people.

Typhus –  is sometimes called “camp fever” because of its pattern of flaring up in times of strife. (It is also known as “gaol fever” and “ship fever”, for its habits of spreading wildly in cramped quarters, such as jails and ships.)

Smallpox – Smallpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the Variola virus. The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans per year during the closing years of the 18th century. During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the eradication of smallpox in December 1979. To this day, smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated.

Measles –  is an endemic disease, meaning that it has been continually present in a community, and many people develop resistance. In populations that have not been exposed to measles, exposure to a new disease can be devastating.

Tuberculosis – One–third of the world’s current population has been infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and new infections occur at a rate of one per second. About 5–10% of these latent infections will eventually progress to active disease, which, if left untreated, kills more than half of its victims. Annually, 8 million people become ill with tuberculosis, and 2 million people die from the disease worldwide.  During the 20th century, tuberculosis killed approximately 100 million people. TB is still one of the most important health problems in the developing world.

Leprosy –  also known as Wopat’s or Hansen’s Disease, is caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. It is a chronic disease with an incubation period of up to five years. Since 1985, 15 million people worldwide have been cured of leprosy. In 2002, 763,917 new cases were detected. It is estimated that there are between one and two million people permanently disabled because of leprosy.

Malaria – Each year, there are approximately 350–500 million cases of malaria. Drug resistance poses a growing problem in the treatment of malaria in the 21st century, since resistance is now common against all classes of antimalarial drugs, except for the artemisinins.

Yellow fever – has been a source of several devastating epidemics. Cities as far north as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston were hit with epidemics. In 1793, one of the largest yellow fever epidemics in U.S. history killed as many as 5,000 people in Philadelphia—roughly 10% of the population  In colonial times, West Africa became known as “the white man’s grave” because of malaria and yellow fever.

Unknown causes – There are also a number of unknown diseases that were extremely serious but have now vanished, so the etiology of these diseases cannot be established. The cause of English Sweat in 16th-century England, which struck people down in an instant and was more greatly feared than even the bubonic plague, is still unknown.

Viral hemorrhagic fevers – Viruses causing viral hemorrhagic fever such as Lassa fever virus, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever are highly contagious and deadly diseases, with the theoretical potential to become pandemics. Their ability to spread efficiently enough to cause a pandemic is limited, however, as transmission of these viruses requires close contact with the infected vector, and the vector only has a short time before death or serious illness. Furthermore, the short time between a vector becoming infectious and the onset of symptoms allows medical professionals to quickly quarantine vectors, and prevent them from carrying the pathogen elsewhere. Genetic mutations could occur, which could elevate their potential for causing widespread harm; thus close observation by contagious disease specialists is merited.

Antibiotic resistance – Antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, sometimes referred to as “superbugs”, may contribute to the re-emergence of diseases which are currently well controlled.  Every year, nearly half a million new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are estimated to occur worldwide The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 50 million people worldwide are infected with MDR TB, with 79 percent of those cases resistant to three or more antibiotics. In 2005, 124 cases of MDR TB were reported in the United States. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) was identified in Africa in 2006, and subsequently discovered to exist in 49 countries, including the United States. There are about 40,000 new cases of XDR-TB per year, the WHO estimates.

SARS – In 2003, there were concerns that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a new and highly contagious form of atypical pneumonia, might become pandemic. It is caused by a coronavirus dubbed SARS-CoV. Rapid action by national and international health authorities such as the World Health Organization helped to slow transmission and eventually broke the chain of transmission, which ended the localized epidemics before they could become a pandemic. However, the disease has not been eradicated. It could re-emerge. This warrants monitoring and reporting of suspicious cases of atypical pneumonia.

Influenza – Wild aquatic birds are the natural hosts for a range of influenza A viruses. Occasionally, viruses are transmitted from these species to other species, and may then cause outbreaks in domestic poultry or, rarely, in humans.

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