(Daily News Scan - DNS English) Epidemics that Hit India Since 1900


(Daily News Scan - DNS English) Epidemics that Hit India Since 1900


Recently, WHO has declared Corona Virus as pandemic. WHO has differentiated epidemic from pandemic. This disease COVID-19, has spread to almost all parts of the world within no time. Now it has reached to our country India, rapidly spreading its arms in India as well. Countries around the world have perviously witnessed pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Today in this edition of DNS, we will understand the difference between epidemic and pandemic. Also we will know about the epidemics that hit THE World since 1900.

India in the past has witnessed several outbreaks of diseases, but those were not as widespread as the novel corona virus. The helping hand in spread of this disease is the mass travel that covered the whole world through different carriers in an unprecedented manner.

The World Health Organization has differentiated between epidemic and pandemic. WHO defines epidemics as “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy. The community or region and the period in which the cases occur are specified precisely. The number of cases indicating the presence of an epidemic varies according to the agent, size, and type of population exposed, previous experience or lack of exposure to the disease, and time and place of occurrence.”

Epidemics can be characterised by the speed of their spread especially for specific diseases over a large number of people in a short period of time. On the other hand a pandemic according to WHO is the spread of a new disease worldwide.

Let us now know what all epidemics has hit the world and India since the year 1900 and also know how the country has fought with these. India is very much familiar in dealing with public health crisis and epidemics. Few of them are discussed below with the years when and how they started.

Encephalitis lethargica, also known as ‘lethargic encephalitis’ occurred between the years 1915-1926. It was also called encephalitis A and Economo encephalitis. The disease was characterised by increasing languor, apathy, drowsiness and lethargy. By the year 1919 it had spread to Europe, the US, Canada, Central America and India. The virus was spread through nasal and oral secretions. Approximately 1.5 million people are believed to have died due to this disease.

The second disease in the list is Spanish Flu which spread during the years 1918-1920. This epidemic was a viral infectious disease caused due to a deadly strain of avian influenza. The spread of this virus was largely due to World War 1. In India, approximately 10-20 million people died due to the Spanish flu that was brought to the region, by Indian soldiers who were part of the war. It was also a pandemic.

The next disease in the list is Cholera pandemic that spread between the years 1961-1975. In a span of less than five years, the virus spread to parts of Southeast Asia and South Asia, having reached Bangladesh in 1963 and India in 1964. From South Asia, it spread to the Middle East, North Africa and then onwards to Europe. Decreasing levels of sanitation, increasing populations and increased international travel contributed to the spread of bacteria across the world.

Flu pandemic this disease spread in 1968-1969. This flu pandemic was caused by the H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus. This virus emerged in Hong Kong and within two months it spread to parts of the world like Vietnam and Singapore, Philippines, India, Australia and parts of Europe.

Small Pox epidemic- The infectious disease was caused by either of the two virus variants Variola major and Variola minor. By 1950, the World Health Organization had begun laying plans for mass-eradication campaign of smallpox around the world, and despite the costs and ambitious plans, global support for this increased. 60% of all smallpox cases in the world were reported in India. India launched the National Smallpox Eradication Program (NSEP) in 1962 with plans to engage in mass vaccination of the population to curb the disease. India was free of smallpox by March 1977.

Plague in Surat In September 1994, pneumonic plague hit Surat, causing people to flee the city in large numbers. Within weeks, at least 1,000 cases of patients afflicted with the disease and 50 deaths were reported. Open drains, unsanitary garbage disposal, unclean distribution of piped water, dead rats lying in the open drains, all collectively contributed to the plague outbreak.

SARS 2002-2004. It was the first severe and readily transmissible new disease to have emerged in the 21st century. India recorded its first case of SARS in 2003. This was a severe acute respiratory syndrome. It spread through close person-to-person contact and through coughing and sneezing by infected people. The virus had managed to spread to at least 30 countries around the world.

In the year 2006 several states in India reported simultaneous outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya virus. Both are mosquito-borne tropical diseases and stagnation of water provides breeding ground for these mosquitoes.

In February 2009, reports emerged that approximately 125 people in Modasa, Gujarat, were infected with Hepatitis B, an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis B virus that affects the liver. The disease is caused due to transmission of infected blood and other body fluids and local doctors were suspected of having administered treatments on patients with used and contaminated syringes.

In the last few months of 2014, reports emerged of the outbreak of the H1N1 virus, one type of influenza virus, with states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra and Telangana being the worst affected. By February 2015, India reported at least 12,963 affected cases and 31 deaths. By March 2015 2,000 people had died.

The city of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh in the year 2017 was affected by Japanese encephalitis (JE) and acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), caused primarily due to mosquito bites. Both are viral infections that cause inflammation of the brain leaving long-term physical disabilities and death. By September 2017, more than 1,300 children had died. The outbreak was attributed to the lack of cleanliness and sanitation that had become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

In May 2018, a viral infection attributed to fruit bats was traced in the state of Kerala, caused by the Nipah virus that had caused illness and deaths. The spread of the outbreak remained largely within the state of Kerala, due to efforts by the local government and various community leaders who worked in collaboration to prevent its spread. Between May and June 2018, at least 17 people died of Nipah virus and by June, the outbreak was declared to have been completely contained.




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