Pandemics aren’t just caused by the flu. Pandemics through history have been caused by benign diseases such as cholera, typhus, smallpox, leprosy. And don’t forget other fun stuff like the bubonic plague.
Rudy’s Note: Pandemics are generally categorized by severity using something called, oddly enough, the Pandemic Severity Index. Similar to the severity scales for storms, pandemic severities are measured on a scale of 1 to 5.
The PSI is primarily measured by the ‘case-fatality ratio’ which is the percentage of deaths out of the total reported cases. A category 1 pandemic has a CFR of less than 0.1%, while a category 5 is 2% or higher.
In real numbers, based on the US population in 2006, a Cat 1 pandemic would kill up to 90,000 people, while a Cat 5 pandemic would be devastating to the population with over 1,800,000 deaths.
This is serious stuff, people…
Suffice it to say that the threat of pandemic disease is very real, and isn’t all that unlikely. Let’s take a look at the flu and a couple of the influenza pandemics that have occurred over the years.
The Spanish Flu
It was a category 5 global pandemic that killed between 50 and 100 million people world wide in two years. Highly infectious, it had an infection rate of around 50%. The mortality rate was up to 20%.
The Spanish Flu hit young people more than the elderly, which is rare for a flu. If this isn’t enough to worry you, a similar pandemic if it happened today, with the same infection and mortality rates, would kill between 18,000,000 and 20,000,000 Americans.
The Asian Flu
It took four months for the virus to spread world-wide. This pandemic was a category 2 pandemic that killed 1-4 million people world wide. In the US it killed 70,000 people. Using today’s population numbers, that’s about 120,000 people.
Unlike the Spanish Flu, the Asian Flu of 1957 killed primarily the elderly, just like the classic seasonal flu. This helped keep mortality numbers lower than they might otherwise have been.
The Hong Kong Flu
The H3N2 virus is one of the most prominent seasonal influenzas, killing around 36,000 people a year in the United States.
The Hong Kong Flu had a relatively low death rate, killing only 33,800 people in the United States, or about 55,000 people in today’s numbers. This lower death rate was due largely to immunities from the Asian Flu pandemic, the timing of the outbreaks peak, and improved antibiotics that helped resolve secondary infections.
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully you’ll agree that a pandemic is a potentially serious problem, and considering that in the last 100 years we’ve had several major influenza pandemics (let alone other diseases), it’s a real problem.
Stay tuned for a post in the near future that will discuss ways to prepare for a pandemic.