Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 3, 2011

Visualizing history’s deadliest pandemics

Filed under: Biosecurity,Catastrophes — by Christopher Bellavita on September 3, 2011

This graphic comes from a site called Visual News (thanks WRC).  You can click on the picture for a larger, full screen, easier-to-read-the-details image.

If we were to look up into the branches of our ancient family tree, many of us would see limbs from our past that ended prematurely in the huge pandemics which have swept the world. In my tree for example, two relatives on oposite American coasts died of Spanish Flu in the same year. Created in a collaboration between GOOD and Column Five, this graphic details the ten deadliest pandemics both past and present, with a key explaining normal symptoms, estimated death tolls and the years they ravaged the world. If that sounds bleak, just make sure you notice how many of these global crisis’ have been cured in just the last century. What cures will the future hold?


The Deadliest Disease Outbreaks Visualized

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 3, 2011 @ 9:51 pm

The “bugs” evolve and We [humans] evolve. CDC undergoing huge budget cuts IMO!

Comment by Donald Quixote

September 4, 2011 @ 11:16 am

Or what shifts, drifts and\or mutations of strains shall we experience due to globalization and\or overuse of antibiotics? We may underestimate the threat from expanding or re-emerging infectious diseases and their ability to circumvent the world in a very short period via commercial aviation. This is always a fun dinner conversation.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

September 5, 2011 @ 1:59 am

Fantastic graphic.

On a related topic, there is a new movie coming out soon “Contagion” about the emergence of a new pandemic.


It will be interesting to hear from knowledgeable people about how realistic events in the movie are portrayed.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

September 5, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

On average there are three pandemics per century with teo being relatively mild and one not so much. And just as a tidbit of trivia; The spanish influenza was a name given due to no censorship or propoganda coming from Spain, a neutral country in WWI… It actually originated in the good ole US of A. To be specific, a leading expert of the 1918 flu for asserted that the former virus was likely to have come from China, mutated in the United States near Boston, and spread to Brest, France, Europe’s battlefields, Europe, and the world using Allied soldiers and sailors as main spreaders. The second or deadly wave emerged in Kansas at Fort Riley.

There is alot of interesting reading on it and the history of these viruses go hand in hand with our animal husbandry and domestication of animal activities over time.

Comment by Alan Wolfe

September 6, 2011 @ 7:43 am

The problem with movies like “Contagion,” “The Stand,” “Outbreak,” and lots of other lesser known, poorly written BW movies, is that they depend on fast-acting, highly contagious, 99% lethal viruses as the plot vehicle. The problem is, any highly contagious virus would quickly burn out once any significant attempts to quarantine and use of sanitation processes was put in place. That’s why you don’t see Marlburg or Ebola breaking out of Africa. But that wouldn’t make for high drama.

Comment by Donald Quixote

September 6, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

Mr. Wolfe:

You make an interesting point. The impact of the high mortality or “high-burn” rate of a novel or emerging virus can be underappreciated when evaluating its likelihood of spreading or mutating to a more communicable and sustainable level. Unfortunately, a reduction in mortality rates may not always be a positive development, if it permits the time to shift, mutate or merge with another virus. You may find the article below interesting.

UN warns of bird flu resurgence, new Asian strain

Associated Press Monday, August 29, 2011

ROME (AP) – The United Nations warned Monday of a possible resurgence of the deadly bird flu virus, saying wild bird migrations had brought it back to previously virus-free countries and that a mutant strain was spreading in Asia.

A mutant strain of H5N1, which can apparently sidestep defenses of existing vaccines, is spreading in China and Vietnam, Tthe U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement Monday. It urged greater surveillance to ensure that any outbreaks are contained.

Last week, the World Health Organization reported that a 6-year-old Cambodian girl had died Aug. 14 from bird flu, the eighth person to die from H5N1 avian influenza this year in Cambodia.

Vietnam suspended its springtime poultry vaccination this year, FAO said. Most of the northern and central parts of the country where the virus is endemic have been invaded by the new strain.

Elsewhere, FAO says bird migrations over the past two years have brought H5N1 to countries that had been virus-free for several years, including Israel, the Palestinian territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia.

“Wild birds may introduce the virus, but people’s actions in poultry production and marketing spread it,” said FAO’s chief veterinary office Juan Lubroth in urging greater preparedness and surveillance.
WHO says globally there have been 331 human deaths from 565 confirmed bird flu cases since 2003 when it was first detected.

The virus was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its peak in 2006, but it remained endemic in six countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The number of outbreaks in poultry and wild bird populations shrank from a high of 4000 to 302 in mid-2008, but outbreaks have risen progressively since, with almost 800 cases reported in 2010-2011, FAO said.

“The general departure from the progressive decline in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flare-up of H5N1 this fall and winter, with people unexpectedly finding the virus in their backyard,” Lubroth said in a statement.

Comment by Tom Russo

September 7, 2011 @ 7:44 am

And then there is the element of human behavior and the rights of individual to refuse preventive action regardless of threat to self, occupational responsibilities or contribution to herd immunity. Given our ability to mitigate infectious disease over the past century, human behavior has risen as a risk factor that neutralizes the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns. There remains a persistent reticence among educated, societal members to resist preventive measures when the threat presents itself as witnessed during H1N1. Healthcare workers led the way despite their oath to protect and care for others, their educational level, and simply knowing better. Healthcare workers were a priority group for H1N1 vaccination but only an estimated 37.1 percent received vaccination.1 Then there was the revolt by state government workers in New York when the Governor mandated H1N1 vaccination in 2009, refusing vaccination.

You would have thought these sectors would have learned something after SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) compromised the healthcare sector in Toronto.

1. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Interim Results: Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent and Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Coverage Among Health-Care Personnel — United States, August 2009–January 2010, April 2, 2010 / 59(12); pp357-362

Comment by Donald Quixote

September 11, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

Mr. Bogis:

You may be impressed by the movie. Though not perfect and produced by Hollywood, it is an interesting movie and should hopefully expand or enhance preparedness consideration for this sleeping giant.

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