3 Pandemics in the last Century that Changed the World

Change is the only constant and necessity the mother of all inventions. Seemingly enough we do find ourselves on the same page for over a year. Future does seem even bleak. The grotesque demeanour this mask has given us for the past few months now has become a fashion statement. Our body, a complex system made of a gazillion cells required just one foreign cell’s invasion to call it quits and cause mayhem to the whole community that is Humanity. This devil, though not in a “Prada” funnily comes with its very own crown. Which gives it the name- Coronavirus. This crown makes it what it is, a powerful multiplier, whose only goal is to make more of its own. Over 80 % people who do end up catching this infection show only mild symptoms, though the rate at which it spreads, forces our poorly equipped health infrastructure to collapse making the whole situation scary. 

The past century has seen many diseases spring up. Most pathogens left us in harmony, some wounded our community, but there is always one that tears it all apart.  Three such outbreaks have made it to this list of the most powerful, having changed the life we peacefully lived.

Any living organism on this planet is governed by its genetic material. It is much like the common language for any living cell to communicate. Just entering the human body won’t cause an infection. The virus needs to find a perfect match to manipulate thus entering a cell and taking over the genetic machinery to make more of its own. This is not as simple as it sounds. There are a lot of proteins, enzymes, receptors and bio-chemicals involved. The final goal though, is achieved when the virus attaches its DNA to ours. Once that is done, the naïve DNA makes proteins for the virus to make more viral cells and this cycle continues until the defence cells in our body recognize foul play and gather an army to fight the war. That is when we show signs of chills, fever, sore throat, etc. 

Spanish Flu

The “mother of all pandemics” – Spanish Flu, killed somewhere around 20 to 50 million people. The Spanish flu (1918-1920) was caused by H1N1 influenza virus. This disease was first observed and documented in Europe, United States and parts of Asia. The deadliest disease in the history of humankind, it infected nearly 500 million people in the course of two-three years. It was a pandemic, having crossed borders and showing its presence at the global level. Yet, it is known as the Spanish flu. It was a time the world was at war (World War I). Most countries had wartime censors who covered up the news in order to keep the morale high. Spain was the only country that had free media and covered the news about the flu from the beginning having created a picture of the worst hit country in the world. Hence, at that time people believed it to be a disease in Spain. The flu had a huge toll on human life and also affected the economy. In 2008, scientist finally could pinpoint at the main reasons for the infection. Three genes of the virus helped weaken the patient’s bronchial system making way for bacterial Pneumonia. 


Around 37 million people in the world are currently living with AIDS, making it one of the worst Pandemics in modern history. AIDS or Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome is caused by HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus that literally leaves people without an immune system over time. It has a similar history to many viral diseases that are spread from other animals. This virus was believed to have come from infected chimps from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo. The virus spread may have occurred along the travel routes by migrants and sex trade.  It is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, and breast milk. The virus is dangerous due to its virulent behaviour and ability to attack one of the cells involved in our immune system, the CD4 cells or T cells. Over time if not detected early and treated, the virus destroys most CD4 cells making the immune system compromised to the level where the body could get infected by pathogens which otherwise bring no harm to a person having a normal immune system. This is how the infection was first identified in 1981 when the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report about five homosexual men who were otherwise healthy became infected with Pneumocystis Pneumonia which is caused by a normally harmless fungus. Today, if detected early a person positive for HIV can lead a normal life with the anti-viral drug treatment which has been designed to weaken the effect of virus on the immune system. Unfortunately, it has been 40 years and no sigh of a vaccine, that is how deadly it is. Once the virus enters the body it can live in it for decades slowly compromising the immune system of the victim to a point where the person no longer has an immune response to fight even the smallest of infections which a normal person can fight and survive. If a person contracts HIV it is for a lifetime. A slow death, much like corrosion of iron from oxygen over time. 


A novel coronavirus strain was detected in Hubei province of Wuhan, China on the 17th of November 2019. The World Health Organization declared it a Pandemic on 11th March 2020 after it crossed the borders affecting 114 countries in three months now having taken 3.5 million lives. This virus also was believed to have jumped from an animal into humans. Covid-19 is considered twice as contagious as the seasonal flu due to its incubation period which is 5-14 days. Unlike the common flu people who get infected do not show symptoms for almost a week spreading the virus like wildfire. The fatality rate also is ten times that of the common flu. Disrupting the day-to-day activities, bringing change to a more digitized world, having created a constant fear this new virus has been able to make things out of our control when human beings certainly like to keep things under control. 

The leading cause of death to date is Ischaemic heart disease where a part of the heart does not receive blood. Nowhere close to a foreign invader getting curious. Yet, these invaders have caused chaos and obstruction in our fairly normal lives. We are still living with these viruses. People have been affected in more than one way.  They have not been eradicated like the small pox. Vaccinating the community seems hopeful in these dark times. 

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