The novel coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. People are checking COVID-19 pandemic statistics on a daily, even hourly basis, and research facilities are putting all their efforts into finding treatment. Global leaders are taking extreme precautionary measures to flatten the curve, even at the cost of inducing the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
With the coronavirus spreading incredibly fast across the world and mortality rates rising, careful consideration of past pandemic stats and figures might just be what is needed to gain a clearer picture of the threat we are facing right now.
The Most Important Pandemic Facts and Stats
- A pandemic is defined as a global outbreak of a disease.
- Pandemics typically slow down and end on their own.
- The 1918 Spanish flu was one of the “greatest pandemics in history.”
- 80% of swine flu-related deaths occurred in people under the age of 65.
- As of April 18, there were 2,258,909 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world.
- The USA has the highest mortality rate (almost 5% as of April 15).
- A person with the novel coronavirus infects about 2.2 people on average.
- At the start of April, over 200 clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment or vaccines were either ongoing or recruiting patients.
- Vaccines are identified as one of the most effective ways to protect people during an influenza pandemic.
- There’s no strong evidence that herbs or supplements can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Global Pandemic Statistics and Facts
1. A pandemic is defined as a global outbreak of a disease.
A pandemic is declared when a bacterium or a novel virus spreads rapidly across the world and affects a large number of people. The term comes from the Greek work pandemos, which means “pertaining to all people.”
2. The biggest difference between epidemic vs. pandemic is geographic spread.
Based on the epidemic facts and definitions, an epidemic refers to an outbreak of a disease that is spreading actively over a wide geographic area and affects a higher proportion of the population than what is normally expected. In short, an epidemic is a disease that is out of control.
3. Pandemics cause considerable increases in morbidity and mortality.
The mitigation efforts against pandemics can cause social and political disruption. Outbreaks could result in changes to individual behavior, violence, and tensions between citizens, as well as hinder economic growth. According to epidemic statistics and pandemic models, the novel coronavirus could knock $9 trillion off the global GDP in the next two years.
4. The WHO decides when to declare a pandemic.
There is no threshold to declare a pandemic, meaning that there’s no predetermined number of countries or people that need to be affected for the WHO to label an outbreak as a pandemic. For example, HIV is referred to as an epidemic rather than a pandemic as a result of declining prevalence rates, even though almost all countries in the world are affected.
5. A pandemic model can’t predict the future.
Epidemiologists studying global pandemic risk generally prepare models on the progression of infectious diseases and viruses; however, these models only showcase possibilities that can vary significantly based on people’s actions.
6. Pandemics typically slow down and end on their own.
The process of ending a pandemic is accelerated with the development of a vaccine or through preventive measures, such as improved personal and hand hygiene. However, there are cases when the pandemic seemingly slows down only to be followed by another wave of high and rapid transmission.
Stats and Facts on Historical Plagues
7. The Black Death killed around 25 million people in Europe, or one-third of Europe’s population, between 1347 and 1352.
(Britanicca, History, The Washington Post)
Also known as the Bubonic plague, this disease originated in rats and spread to humans through infected fleas. The Black Plague ended with the introduction of quarantine, a practice against epidemics still implemented in the modern world.
8. The 1918 Spanish flu was one of the “greatest pandemics in history.”
Spanish influenza claimed the lives of 50–100 million people, or approximately 5% of the entire population, making it the deadliest plague in history. Subsequent research into the cause of this outbreak has highlighted the importance of sanitation, immunization, and antiviral drugs in the battle against major pandemics.
9. 80% of swine flu-related deaths occurred in people under the age of 65.
(Business Insider, WHO)
Swine flu, caused by an A virus (H1N1), was the first pandemic of the 21st century. It was also the first for which any pandemic plans and measures were introduced, as well as the first outbreak for which a vaccine was developed and deployed to several countries during the first year of the epidemic.
10. Possibly the worst pandemic in history, HIV/AIDS, caused the death of 35 million people across the planet since 1981.
(Washington Post, HIV.gov, WHO)
There were around 37.9 million people in the world with HIV/AIDS in 2018, 1.7 million of whom were children. Due to raised awareness and access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), however, mortality rates among adults and children have drastically gone down today.
11. 33 Ebola outbreaks have been recorded since 1976.
(WebMD, Business Insider)
The 2014 outbreak was one of the most serious pandemics in Africa, with 28,600 infected people and 11,325 dead, most of whom were located in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The Ebola virus in West Africa caused economic damages in the amount of a whopping $4.3 billion.
12. SARS killed 774 people out of the 8,098 it infected in 2003.
(CDC, Business Insider)
SARS, one of the seven coronaviruses that can affect people, has raised awareness over preventing viral disease transmission and contributed to the fast global response against the current COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 Pandemic Statistics
13. As of May 30th, there were 6,112,476 confirmed cases of the virus in the world.
The novel coronavirus is present in almost all countries in the world, i.e., in 210 countries and territories around the world and two international conveyances. So far, 369,474 of the people with the virus have died, and 2,712,423 have recovered.
14. With 1,812,220 people with COVID-19, the USA has the largest number of confirmed cases in the world.
(Worldometer, New York Times)
According to the most recent numbers on the pandemic infection rate, the USA is followed by Brazil (469,510), Russia (396,575), Spain (286,308), and Italy (232,664). Although cases have been recorded in all 50 states, New York has the biggest number of cases (378,931 confirmed cases and 29,827 deaths).
15. The USA also has the highest mortality rate (almost 5% as of April 15).
(The Washington Post)
Singapore has a fatality rate of 0.2%, while in Germany, fewer than three out of 100 confirmed cases resulted in fatalities. But these numbers can be deceiving, as facts on this major pandemic reveal. On April 17, China raised the Wuhan death toll by 50% after including deaths that went undiagnosed in the early days of the epidemic. The actual mortality rate will be difficult to determine until more data is available.
16. Currently, Germany has the highest rate of recovered cases — 88,000 out of 144,348 confirmed cases.
(CDC, Worldometer, WHO)
Someone who tested positive for the virus is considered to have recovered if they do not have a fever, display improved respiratory symptoms, and have no symptoms for seven days from the first onset. COVID-19 pandemic figures show that 80% of those infected recovers without special medical treatment; however, about one in six people infected with the virus develops respiratory issues.
17. The CDC estimates that the incubation period for COVID-19 is between 2 and 14 days.
We are yet to learn more about the incubation period of COVID-19; however, in over 97% of the cases, people who get infected with the virus start to exhibit symptoms after 11.5 days.
18. COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person through droplets containing the virus in the air, data on this global pandemic reveals.
A person can also become infected by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching their face. Recent studies have shown that the virus could remain in the air for up to three hours, while it can stay on surfaces and objects for 72 hours.
19. A person with the novel coronavirus infects about 2.2 people on average.
(Business Insider, Visual Capitalist)
The R0 refers to the expected number of people a single infected person can, in turn, infect. Studies on major disease outbreak put the R0 of COVID-19 between 2 and 2.5, making this virus more contagious than the seasonal flu (1.3), but less contagious than the measles (16).
20. Adults over 65 and those with severe underlying comorbidities could be at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19.
21. The FDA has cleared over 40 different coronavirus tests, COVID-19 pandemic facts show.
Nasal swab tests that detect viral RNA are the most commonly administered, but a study from China suggests that one in three of these tests might produce a false-negative result. Antibody tests — claiming to be 90% accurate — can also perform under that level in practice.
22. At the start of April, over 200 clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment or vaccines were either ongoing or recruiting patients.
From flu drugs to medicine for malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as drugs used in previous epidemics around the world, pharmaceutical companies are exploring every possible angle to find a treatment or vaccine.
How to Prevent Pandemics?
23. Vaccines are identified as one of the most effective ways to protect people during an influenza pandemic.
(WHO, History of Vaccines, CDC)
The problem during an influenza pandemic is that existing vaccines don’t work against a new virus strain, and developing and distributing a new vaccine can take four to six months, by which time the disease can spread rapidly and drastically increase its death toll.
24. Experiences from influenza pandemic history show that non-pharmaceutical interventions are the most effective if applied together.
The cancellation of public meetings, quarantine and isolation, travel restrictions, contact tracing, and social distancing are all valid measures, but work best when they are applied together, rigorously, and consistently.
25. Personal protective measures can curb the spread of an infectious disease.
A 2017 study on the effectiveness of PPMs on the spreading of influenza showed that the use of facemasks produced mixed results. However, the global pandemic prevention scenarios point to the combined use of masks and hand hygiene as having significant protective effects.
26. There’s no strong evidence that herbs or supplements can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
(Inquirer.com, Harvard University)
Even though an overactive immune system could have adverse health effects, existing evidence suggests that certain supplements and vitamins, as well as avoiding unhealthy diets, could reduce the risk or impact of viral infections.
What was the largest pandemic in history?
Believed to have killed between 75 and 200 million people across the world, the 14th century Black Plague had the highest death rate of all pandemics in history. In fact, the number of deaths was so high it took more than 200 years for European population levels to recover.
What is the deadliest pandemic in human history?
The 1918 Spanish flu was one of the deadliest pandemics in recent history. It was a particularly virulent virus, affecting almost half a billion people between 1918 and 1919. However, one of the unique features of this pandemic, and perhaps the scariest, was the high mortality rate among healthy young people, especially those aged between 20 and 40.
What is the most recent pandemic?
The swine flu of 2009 was the most recent pandemic the world had seen. Thought to have been transmitted from pigs to humans, H1N1 first appeared in 2009, infecting around 1.4 billion people and causing the death of 151,700–575,400 across the world.
How likely is a pandemic?
Traveling, migration, and global integration, as well as urbanization, pollution, and exploitation of the natural environment, have increased the risk of pandemics over the last 100 years, with trends more likely to intensify in the future.
In fact, the number of new infectious diseases, such as SARS and HIV, have increased by almost fourfold in the past century.
Other modern-day factors that contribute to the development of pandemics include climate change (expanding the migration and range of disease-carrying animals) as well as the anti-vaccination movement, named by the WHO as one of the top ten global public health threats.
How many influenza pandemics have occurred in the last 100 years?
Three influenza pandemics were recorded in the 20th century, the most serious of which was the Spanish flu of 1918 — one of the diseases with the highest mortality rates in history. Two others included the so-called Asian flu, spreading from 1957 to 1958 and the 1968 Hong Kong flu. These pandemics caused between one and four million deaths each.
The Bottom Line
As the world grapples with COVID-19, it’s important to remember just how valuable lessons historical pandemic statistics and facts can teach us. Restrictive measures and methods employed in the past have proven invaluable in curbing fatality rates. At the same time, knowledge of how pandemics spread will hopefully bring us closer to possible treatment and resolution of this deadly disease that has been holding the world hostage for almost four months now.
- Business Insider
- Business Insider
- Harvard University
- Harvard University
- History of Vaccines
- Live Science
- New York Times
- The Atlantic
- The Guardian
- The Washington Post
- The Washington Post
- Verywell Health
- Visual Capitalist
- Washington Post