Recent History of Pandemics


HIV/AIDS - Peak 2005-2012

Discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 HIV has killed more than 36 million people since 1981. Treatments have improved over the years and now it is far more manageable and many lead normal lives. There are currently over 30 million living with HIV, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa where 5% are infected.

SWINE FLU - 2009

The flu virus of the H1N1strain originated in Mexico in 2009 and became known as Swine flu as it is similar to flu viruses that affect pigs.  Most cases wee relatively mild but it spread rapidly as it was a new flu so there wasn't any immunity amongst the younger people. It lasted just over a year with a death toll of between 175-500,000.

FLU - 1968

Sometimes referred to as the Hong Kong Flu as it resulted in the deaths of 15% of the population of Hong Kong. This strain H3N2 of the influenza A virus started in Hong Kong before spreading to Singapore and Vietnam 17 days later, within 3 months had spread to The Philippines, India, Australia and the USA. Overall this flu had a low mortality rate of 0.5% but overall resulted in more than 1 million deaths worldwide. 

ASIAN FLU - 1956-1958

This flu was also influenza A strain H2N2 and originated in China in 1956 lasting until 1958. It spread to Singapore, Hong Kong and the USA. The World Health Organisation reports deaths of approximately 2 million.


This was a flu pandemic with a high mortality rate affecting healthy young adults and unusually leaving the elderly, young children and those with weakened immune systems alive.  It was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus (the same virus as 2009 Swine flu) and lasted for more than 12 months.  It is thought that between 17 and 50 million died. It is unknown where the pandemic originated but rules on reporting after the war in some countries meant that as it was more freely reported in Spain the illusion was given that it was more of a Spanish flu, hence the name.

Some Recent Epidemics

SARS - 2002-2003

This coronavirus originated in China's Guangdong province in November 2002 and crossed to humans from the horseshoe bat. The virus was called SARS-COV and spread across the world in 2003 with over 8,000 reported cases and 774 deaths. The fatality rate was higher than SARS COV-2 but as patients were only infectious when they were symptomatic it was much easier to control and the virus was contained by July 2003.


SARS shares 82% of its genome with SARS COV-2 and both gain entry into cells using the receptor called ACE2.

MERS - 2012

This coronavirus was identified in Saudi Arabia in September 2012 from a man who had died 3 months earlier. Around the world 27 countries have reported cases of MERS but 80% of cases have been in Saudi Arabia. Direct or indirect contact with camels is the most common route of infection.  The fatality rate is very high at 34% and overall 2,494 were infected with 858 deaths.