The world has reached the one-million death mark because of coronavirus – numbers that may double, WHO says. Covid-19 has killed more people in less than a year than the previous great epidemics from the 20th and 21st centuries, excluding the Spanish flu and its 50 million victims over two years.
In 2009, the swine flu, or H1N1, sound the pandemic alarm and called for global mobilization. There officially are 18,500 deaths, even though medical magazine The Lancet revised data upwards and assessed between 151,700 and 575,400 deaths. A few years before, between 2002 and 2003, the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) sparked world fear. This first coronavirus emerged in China and killed 774 people.
Let’s go even further back in time. New viruses have caused major pandemics in the 20th century, totalling one million deaths each. These forgotten epidemics happened from 1957 to 1958 for the Asian flu and between 1969 and 1970 for the Hong Kong flu.
A few years after, Ebola made it to our screens. This virus, emerging back to 1976, is much deadlier than Covid-19: about 50% people infected die, and up to 90% for some epidemics, WHO says. But this virus is less contagious than other viral diseases: it spreads through direct and close contacts, and cannot be airborne. Therefore, in more than 40 years, Ebola killed 15,000 people, and only on the African continent.
Another gloomy record: HIV (or AIDS) has killed about 33 million people since it first appeared over 50 years ago. The deadliest years took place between 1980 and 2000. Since a death peak in 2004, the number of people killed by HIV regularly decreases. Even though no effective vaccine against the disease has been found yet, medicines and anti-retroviral therapies exist and enable people infected to live better, and even make them hope to fully recover.
Unlike what you may have heard or read; coronavirus is no seasonal flu. Every year, they do kill but in smaller proportions. “Worldwide, these annual epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 respiratory deaths” WHO says.