20th and 21st century's major pandemics

Pandemics are no new phenomena, with mankind enduring many with more or less dangerous ones.

virusHeld responsible for health, social, economic and financial crises, the new coronavirus or SARS-Covid 19 highlights the shortcomings of globalization.

In record time, the virus has paralyzed the planet for less than three months. No country saw a disaster of such magnitude coming since State efforts were consumed in terrorist threats.

20th century major pandemics

Modern flu pandemics (1)

YearNameCountryNumber of deathsReproduction rate (Ro)Fatality rate
Spanish Influenza
France, United States20 to 40 millions (2)--
Asian Influenza
China2 millions--
Hong Kong Influenza
China4 millions--
Russian Influenza A(H1N1)
1997 then 2003 and 2018
Avian Influenza (H5N1)
Hong Kong and China4001.3 to 1.6<0.2%
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
A(H1N1) Influenza
Mexico18 500 confirmed (3)1.5 to 1.82 to 3%

(1) 20th and 21st centuries
(2) 80 to 100 millions according to recent estimates
(3) Final estimate between 151 700 and 575 400 deaths

In view of its contagiousness and virulence, SARS-Cov2 would exceed the last influenza pandemics according to the first estimates of the WHO and the classic indicators of reproduction (Ro) and fatality rates.

For the reproduction rate (Ro) which corresponds to the average number of individuals that a contagious person can infect in a population, the range of SARS-Cov2 would be between 1.4 and 2.5. Fatality rate, which is the ratio between the number of people killed by the pandemic and the number of people infected, would place the new coronavirus between 1 and 4%.

Other 20th century pandemics : AIDS

According to UNAIDS, this disease has claimed 32 million lives from 1981 to the present day. In addition, in 2018, nearly 770 000 deaths were reported as a result of HIV-related illnesses. The AIDS virus affects the immune system and makes patients vulnerable to other infections.

Today, nearly 25 million infected people have access to antiretroviral treatments which very effectively slow down the disease while drastically reducing the risks of contamination.

21st century pandemics


This particularly contagious virus had raged between 2013 and 2016 in West Africa before reappearing in 2018. Nearly 11 300 deaths have been reported so far.

Ebola was first reported in 1976. Between the end of 2013 and 2016, it caused an epidemic of fever followed by hemorrhages in several countries of West Africa in particular in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Not as contagious as other viral diseases, Ebola is considered very dangerous due to a mortality rate of around 40%.

The virus reappeared in the summer of 2018 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 2 200 people had been killed.

A(H1N1) Influenza

H1N1 appeared in Mexico in early spring 2009. First designated as "swine" flu, before being declared pandemic in June of the same year. The virus is ultimately much less dangerous than expected and many vaccination campaigns blocked its development.

The consequences of influenza linked to the H1N1 virus are subject to conflicting views. According to WHO figures, the flu wave carried by this virus has caused the death of 18 500 people whereas the medical magazine "The Lancet" reported between 151 700 and 575 400 deaths.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, appeared at the end of 2002 in southern China. It is transmitted from the bat to the civet then from the civet to humans. The civet is a mammal valued for its meat and sold alive on Chinese markets. SARS is particularly contagious; it triggers pneumonia which can prove fatal. The virus has affected more than thirty countries where 440 people lost their lives. China and Hong Kong were the hardest hit with 80% of the victims. The mortality rate reported amounted to 9.5%.

Bird Flu

Avian influenza first decimated poultry industry in Hong Kong and China before being transmitted to humans, creating a global psychosis. The toll ultimately turned out to be limited since there 400 people killed.

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