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The Timeline of a Pandemic

It feels like we are still just waiting for the pandemic to be over...but we should be preparing to live with this harsh reality for a few years. Sorry, no one wants to hear this but that doesn't mean it is not true. The compiled history of pandemics provides experiences we can use to develop realistic expectations about how to make it through this disastrous pandemic. Regardless of what non-doctors & non-medical professionals are saying in the media, there will not be a vaccine this year that is made instantly available to the public. It takes more than a year to develop, test, and distribute new vaccines, so it unreasonable to expect a COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available in 2020. It is up to us to protect ourselves and out loved one for the disease.


When we look into the history of pandemics it is clear they occur over multiple years (see image below), and by definition spread over a large international region or worldwide, while epidemics occur in smaller regions. But the disease is not gone when the pandemic is over, the affected population is just not spreading the disease as quickly because social &/or the environmental conditions are less favorable to efficient transmission of the disease.


A few things to consider when you look at the death tolls of past pandemics and the present COVID-19 pandemic:

  • What was the human population at that point in time? (this determines the death toll, as 1% of 1 billion is much different 1% of 8 billion)

  • How educated was the population on how diseases spread and how to protect themselves? What science was available to help them identify, track & find treatments for the disease?

  • How does that disease spread? (mode of transmission)

  • How quickly does it spread? What was the R0 (=R-naught = reproduction number) of that disease? (this determines how easily is spreads)

  • What is the incubation period? (this determines how far & wide the disease can spread without detection)

  • How many in the population are asymptomatic (but still spreading the disease)? (this also determines how far & wide the disease can spread without detection). For COVID-19 that number may be 40%, or higher or lower, but this number is very difficult to correctly calculate until years of number crunching have compiled massive amounts of data.

  • Was clean water and enough food available to the populace at that point in history? (foul water, poor nutrition & famine causes disease to spread more easily)

  • What part of the population was most affected (age group, blood type, social groups, etc.)?

  • Was there a treatment or vaccine made available, and when?

Pandemics don't just end, but they can be slowed by social distancing practices, improved hygiene, vaccinations, treatments, herd immunity, and therefore time..and we still have a long way to go for COVID-19. Current data shows that COVID-19 is 50-100 times more lethal than influenza on average, given a 1.46% fatality rate, which means that if every human being contracts this disease approximately 113 million people will die from COVID-19. That is why we wear masks, practice social distancing and buy time to find a safe vaccine or treatment that can bring that number way way down. Humans cannot stop natural disasters, even pandemics, but we can mitigate and lessen the impact..if we collectively put enough effort forth and don't actively make the disaster worse.


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