Infectious Outbreaks from the Past

The ongoing Ebola outbreak (originated from West African nations) has imposed a significant public health threat. Globalization and associated elements such as international transportation has aided the rapid dissemination of the disease into several nations. In addition to these factors, the inability of modern medicine to cure the disease has made it an international public health concern.

Intriguingly, the exponential growth of scientific and medical knowledge to cure and control infectious diseases in the past had convinced previous generations that medicine has won the battle again infectious microbial agents. At present however, skepticism seems to be an apparent notion among the public regarding the matter. Throughout this short discussion, I intend to demonstrate that controlling epidemic/pandemic outbreaks are costly in time, efforts and casualties. Thus, a positive outcome always takes time. The best way to demonstrate this phenomenon is to discuss infectious outbreaks which took place through the course of time.


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the host’s immune system and systematically weakens the immune system if left untreated. As a result of prolonged viral activity, an infected individual may reach the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which in fact is a collection of illnesses and symptoms found in HIV-infected patients with sternly debilitated immune systems.

HIV infections has become a global pandemic and is arguably considered as a modern day plague. Within the pandemic of HIV infections, many nations demonstrate different scales of epidemics due to unique dynamics such as population density, cultural and social factors.

  • Current estimates of HIV infected individuals worldwide – 34 million
  • Since 1981, more than 25 million people have died as a result of HIV

Current situation for this pandemic has shown promising signs. Importantly, the disease is at a Stabilization phase; meaning that matters are under control despite being unresolved. Paradoxically, new treatment modes have enabled HIV patients to live longer which in return mean that the probability of disease propagation is slightly being increased.

H1N1 Influenza Flu

The initial global H1N1 influenza virus pandemic took place in 1918 where the information about the virus was initially generated. Afterwards, the virus subtypes such as H2N2 and H3N2 produced pandemics in 1957 and 1968. By 2009, a new influenza virus (H1N1 A) emerged from Mexico and California which then started to rapidly spread among humans worldwide. While this was the first 21 century influenza pandemic, the virus had no genetic relationship to the typical seasonal human influenza flu. However, it was genetically related to virus known to infect pigs.

  • Estimated death toll worldwide – 105700 — 395600

Current Situation for the H1N1 viral infection is at a positive state; effective vaccines and therapeutics are readily available. The vaccines were accepted for use by 2009 and by 2010, the World Wealth Wrganization officially declared that the pandemic has come to an end.

President Barack Obama being vaccinated against H1N1


Cholera is a potent bacterial infection with the capability of killing a healthy adult within 12-24 hours post onset diarrhea, upon failure to follow treatment protocols. Since 1817, humans have experienced seven cholera pandemics, all of them have originated from Asia. The latter pandemic which began in 1961 is currently being considered as active.

  • Each year an estimate of 3 – 5 million individuals get infected
  • Annually, approximately 100,000 infected individuals dies as a result of the disease

Current Situation for cholera is tricky. The disease has been controlled to a greater extent albeit being a major issue in developing nations. Lack of safe water or insufficient access to it has been a root issue in controlling this disease in developing nations.


Smallpox was one of the most feared killers in the world which took vast number of lives over centuries. The viral infection had obvious symptoms and had a widespread existence throughout the world. By 1959 the World Health Organization assembled a drive to eradicate small pox by launching vaccine campaigns to eradicate smallpox.

Current situation smallpox is at an eradicated state since 1979. This is one of two diseases which was declared as eradicated.

Concluding remarks

The above four cases of disease outbreaks can provide one insightful clue about disease control; it takes time, effort and resources to control. While Smallpox and Rinderpest (infects cattle) have been the only eradicated diseases in the world, experts believe that polio could join the list in the near future. (Although, other major diseases are quite far from being eradicated.) Skepticism regarding current disease control efforts and protocols within the public is obvious and is expectable. In particular, the current Ebola outbreak has received so much public attention due to its potential to infect and kill people before medical attention can be given. Each disease outbreak comes with a unique set of factors which makes matters difficult, requiring a unique approach to contain. However, the important key to remember is that efforts are made to stabilize and control all burdensome diseases, albeit the inevitable casualties which unfortunately take place in the process.

Please share your thoughts!

Raveen Rathnasinghe (

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