The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease, crossing international boundaries and affecting a large number of people.1 Before being classified as a pandemic, the outbreak is usually first labelled as an epidemic.2 Viruses that have caused past pandemics typically originated from animal influenza viruses.3
While these viruses may cause symptoms similar to those of the seasonal flu or common cold – such as a cough and fever4- the population would not have immunity against it. This results in severe illness and even death for a large number of individuals. Those with compromised immune systems, co-morbidities and the elderly are at the highest risk.5
The 20th century has seen three influenza pandemics, each being the result of a new type of Influenza A virus. The most severe was the Spanish Flu, which took place between 1918 and 1919. Caused by an A(H1N1) virus, it claimed the lives of an estimated 20 to 50 million people. In the second half of the 20th century, the Asian Flu (1957–58), caused by an A(H2N2) virus, and the Hong Kong Flu (1968), caused by an A(H3N2) virus, took the lives of an estimated one to four million people respectively. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2019, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002 to 2003 and the Swine Flu (H1N1) in 2009 were the more recent pandemics.6
Lessons from previous pandemics such as the Spanish Flu and SARS outbreak suggest that social distancing measures and international cooperation are the most effective methods to slow down the spread of COVID-19.7
The previous package explored the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918. To learn more about other major pandemics after the Spanish Flu, check out the resources listed below. Look out for our next instalment where we will look at vaccinations.
Books/ Ebooks/ Audiobooks
1. Pandemic: Tracking contagions, from cholera to ebola and beyond
Shah, S. (2016, 26 February). Pandemics: Tracking contagions, from cholera to ebola and beyond. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Retrieved from OverDrive. (myLibrary ID is required to access the eBook and audiobook)
2. The pandemic century: One hundred years of panic, hysteria, and hubris
Hongsbaum, M. (2019). The pandemic century: One hundred years of panic, hysteria, and hubris. W.W Norton & Company. Retrieved from OverDrive. (myLibrary ID is required to access the eBook and audiobook)
3. Global flu and you: A history of influenza
Dehner, G. (2011). Global flu and you: A history of influenza. Reaction Books. Retrieved from OverDrive. (myLibrary ID is required to access the eBook)
4. Plagues in world history
Aberth, J. (2011). Plagues in world history. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Retrieved from OverDrive. (myLibrary ID is required to access the eBook)
5. Spillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic
Quammen, D. (2012). Spillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic. W. W. Norton.
Book Cover: All rights reserved, New York: W. W. Norton, 2012
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, November 11). Progress in global surveillance and response capacity 10 years after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2020, March 31.
LePan, N. (2020, March 14). The history of pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) event, ranked by their impact on human life. Visual Capitalist. Retrieved 2020, April 11.
Virus corona pandemi global, ini 6 pandemik terburuk sepanjang sejarah. (2020, March 12). Kompass.com. Retrieved 2020, April 1.
This article examines the six pandemics and epidemics that occurred in the 20th century. These include the Spanish Flu, which started in 1918, Asian Flu in 1957, Hong Kong Flu (H3N2) in 1968 and Swine Flu (H1N1) in 2009.
Kilbourne, E. (2006, January). Influenza pandemics of the 20th century. Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases. US National Library of Medicine. National Institute of Health. Retrieved 2020, March 31.
Viboud, C., et. al. (2005, July). Multinational impact of the 1968 Hong Kong Influenza pandemic: Evidence for a smouldering pandemic. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Oxford Academic, 192(2). Retrieved on 2020, March 31.
Lipsitch, M., et al. (2011, June). Improving the evidence base for decision making during a pandemic: The example of 2009 influenza A/H1N1. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, 89–115. Retrieved 2020, March 31.
Fallows, T. （2003年06月09日）。新加坡铁腕治SARS。人民网。Retrieved 2020, April 2.
Originally published in Caijing magazine, this article reviews the measures taken to curb the SARS outbreak in Singapore in 2003.
Disclaimer/ Rights statement
The information in this resource guide is valid as at April 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2020.