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Pandemic Analysis: Coronavirus 2019 versus Swine Flu 2009

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Reminding one eerily of the swine flu pandemic ten years ago, coronavirus has brought the world to a screeching halt. We take a brief look at the two.

Infecting an estimated one billion, and causing the deaths of around half a million, the 2009 H1N1 virus, or the swine flu pandemic, disrupted the world for over a year, striking fear across continents and cities, and is considered among the deadliest pandemics in human history. Recently originating from a different part of the world, but only ten years apart from the preceding pandemic, COVID-19, or the coronavirus pandemic, has been spreading across countries at a devastating speed, with the death toll rising almost exponentially in several regions.

Lockdown of cities, shutting down of corporates and companies, suspension of all sports events, closing down of universities and schools, disruption of air and road travel  – the worldwide call for social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease has brought the world to a standstill. “We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the UN – one that is killing people, spreading human suffering and upending people’s lives”, said the United Nations in a public report. The current pandemic seems to be on its way to upstage the damage done by the one before it.

The swine flu emerged among pigs, reportedly in Mexico – though some experts dispute that the place of origin was in Asia –  and was carried by them for some period of time before it finally transferred to humans, hence the name. The first reported case came from Veracruz, a small town in Mexico. Experts are yet to ascertain the specific cause that led to the spread of coronavirus, though there is a good probability that it passed onto humans from a different species. The first reported outbreak was in Wuhan, China. 

The total number of people infected with swine flu was estimated to be 700 million – 1.4 billion, from March 2009 to August 2010, while for coronavirus, the number has almost reached 900,000 (reported cases) in a matter of three months, and with the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the number is expected to rise at an even swifter rate in the coming weeks. An extremely stark difference between the two is seen in terms of the mortality rate. While the swine flu did infect a high number of people and did cause a large number of deaths, the mortality rate was not as menacing as compared to what had been expected. Compared to swine flu’s rate of 0.02%, coronavirus had a mortality rate of 3.4% as of March 27, and the difference, when seen in terms of thousands of human beings, is enormous. Though with the increase in number of cases, the rate is expected to fall.

Due to the high mortality rate and high contagiousness, the measures for social distancing are far more severe under coronavirus as compared to swine flu. The extra caution undertaken can also be attributed to the fact that governments and medical institutions are a bit more equipped, mentally and physically, and a tad more aware as regards to handling such a large scale pandemic, having already experienced it a few years back. “When swine flu came out in 2009, there were some shutdowns, some precautionary measures implemented, some schools closed, and daily life was not as disrupted, but during this coronavirus outbreak, there has been a total shutdown of almost every activity, that too at a global level”, said a city doctor, on the condition of anonymity. Indeed, the widespread suspension of almost every public activity, from road vehicles to international flights, local shops to multinational retailers, restaurants to tourist attractions, football leagues to the Olympics, public parks to national stadiums, along with several countries under precautionary quarantine, is unprecedented. 

Both coronavirus and swine flu have largely similar symptoms, and a similar mode of transmission, infected respiratory droplets. Yet both were caused by vastly different virus families. A vaccine for swine flu was developed a few months after it was declared a pandemic, and though many deaths had been caused by that time, it helped curtail any further damage. No such vaccine or cure has been developed for coronavirus, though efforts are underway across the world. According to a report by Centres For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and young adults accounted for 75% deaths under swine flu. As for deaths under coronavirus, a large proportion of the deaths have been of old citizens. 

A definite and conclusive analysis can only be done after the pandemic has subsided. While the logical and quick decision made by several governments to introduce social distancing measures is laudable, the magnitude of the shutdown, as well as the damage that has already been done, is a proof of the potential damage that the disease can inflict in the coming few weeks. Though looking at the doctors and scientists working day and night towards a cure or a vaccine, the rising number of recovered patients and the fact that the case toll has slowed down in some countries, especially in the disease’s place of origin, China, the possibility of coronavirus being brought under control by the end of 2020 cannot totally be ruled out.

Featured Image Credits – Business Insider

Araba Kongbam

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Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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