In early 2009, a new strain of the flu called H1N1, also known as swine flu, emerged in North America.
It quickly spread around the world. According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it accounted for somewhere between 151,700 and 575,400 deaths worldwide within its first year of circulation.
Although a vaccine was created in late 2009, it wasn’t made in time to reduce mortality during the peak of the outbreak.
Now, H1N1 continues to spread seasonally across the world. Since 2018, H1N1 is estimated to have caused some 100 million illnesses worldwide, although only a fraction of these led to hospitalization or death.
Nevertheless, the outbreak clearly marked a new era in modern global outbreaks and their responses.
The coronavirus outbreak is still in its infancy, but there appear to be significant differences in its impact and scope compared to H1N1.
Coronavirus has killed 300 people so far, all of them in China. Over 14,000 people are thought to have contracted the virus, bringing the death rate for the virus so far to less than 3%.
Experts warn, however, that there are still many unknown factors that could influence the longer term impact of this virus.
In the middle of 2009, the leader of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, declared H1N1 a pandemic that had spread around the world.
Despite the designation, the WHO was muted in the language it used to describe the outbreak. Dr. Chan noted that the outbreak is suspected to be “moderately severe” and stated that the WHO did “not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe or fatal infections.”
In October 2009, US President Barack Obama declared H1N1 a national emergency. This gave the US Health and Human Services Department the ability to streamline the fight against the virus.
The details surrounding the spread of the two outbreaks are significantly different. H1N1 probably originated in Mexico sometime in 2008, with early cases likely misidentified as the standard flu.
By the time H1N1 made it onto the radar of the international health officials in 2009, the disease was no longer localized in a particular country or region. In contrast, the coronavirus was identified shortly after making its initial appearance in Wuhan, China.
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