Analyzing epidemics: 2020 Coronavirus edition

photo credit NPR

Projections, caution and fear accompany emerging and media-saturated epidemics. Coronavirus has dominated our headlines and induced widespread fear. Time will tell the final story of this epidemic. Looking at the history and data of past well-known epidemics gives us a better grounding in how this one might play out.

Let’s rewind the clock and take a look.

Source data as of 3/20/2020.

Ebola (2013–2016)

EVD (ebola virus disease)

First known case: December 2013; Peak Date: October 2014; Crisis controlled: March 29, 2016

Geographic Reach: Western Africa

Total Cases: 28,652; Total Deaths: 11,325; Death Rate: 39.5%

Transmission: Person to person contact

Treatment: The USDA approved an Ebola vaccine on December 19, 2019

Summary: This disease affected all age groups including children. It was highly localized in Western Africa. Highly deadly, but not highly contagious, the disease ran its course. It was growing fast from the middle to the end of 2014 and then tapered off by the middle of 2015.

Source Data:

SARS (2002–2003)

Severe acute respiratory syndrome

First known case: November 2002; Crisis controlled: July 2003

Geographic Reach: Primarily localized to China

Total Cases: 8,098; Total Deaths: 774; Death Rate: 9.6%

Transmission: Person to person contact, close contact

Treatment: There are a number of laboratory tests for SARS. There is no current cure for SARS.

Summary: This disease came and went quickly. SARS is also a type of coronavirus. The disease was less viral than initial fears.

Source Data:

Swine Flu (2009–2010, present)


First known case: Spring 2009, WHO declared H1N1 a global pandemic June 11, 2009, Peak year in US was between April 12, 2009 — April 10, 2010. H1N1 still circulates annually since 2009.

Geographic Reach: Global

Total Cases: In the peak year between April 2009–April 2010, an estimate of 68.8 million cases and 12,469 deaths in the US alone. The global death toll in that first year is projected at 151,700 to 575,400 deaths. Death rate estimated at .001-.007%. From 2009 to 2018, in the United States, H1N1 infections estimate is 100.5 million, 936,000 hospitalizations and 75,000 deaths.

Treatment: A flu shot was introduced in November 2010 to help protect against the H1N1 flu, but the disease continues to affect people annually.

Summary: This is a massively viral disease. The disease is unique for a flu virus in that 80% of the deaths globally occur for patients under the age of 65. For most influenzas, the death rate occurs in those over 65 years of age at a 70–90% rate. The infection and death toll was particularly high in the first year of the outbreak, though the death rate by percentage was low.

Source Data:

HIV/AIDS (1979 — present)

Human Invitro Virus

Date epidemic began: 1979 is considered the year the epidemic began

Geographic Reach: Global

Total Cases: 37.9 million globally living with HIV (end of 2018), 1.7 million newly infected (2018), 770,000 dies from AIDS-related illnesses (2018), 74.9 million total infections (count through end of 2018), 32.0 million deaths (count through end of 2018).

US Cases: 1.1 million living with HIV. In 2018, 37,832 received an HIV diagnosis. 16,350 deaths in 2017 of people with HIV (not necessarily from HIV/AIDS related causes).

Transmission: Person-to-person. Unprotected sex with an infected person and sharing hypodermic needles are the two most common ways the disease is contracted.

Treatment: A cocktail of anti-HIV medications including anti-retroviral drugs have proven effective in reducing the death rate of the virus.

Summary: Prior to the introduction of the anti-HIV cocktails, this disease was growing rapidly, unchecked and was highly deadly. HIV/AIDS is still a major problems globally, especially in poorer, undeveloped countries. An immunization for HIV/AIDS has not yet been introduced.

Source Data:

Spanish Flu (1918–1919)

H1N1 with avian strain

Date epidemic began: 1918

Geographic Reach: Global

Total Cases: 500 million (estimate), 50 million deaths (estimate), 675,000 deaths in US (estimate)

Treatment: None at the time.

Summary: This is the most severe pandemic in modern history. WWI helped the disease quickly travel globally. There were no vaccines or antibodics to treat the disease. A curious statistic is that the disease not only had a high mortality rate in babies and toddlers (less than 5) and elderly (older than 65), but also in the 20–40 year old demographic.

Source data:

Hong Kong Flu (1968–1969, 1972)

H3N2 with avian strain

Date epidemic began: 1968

Geographic Reach: Global

Total Cases: 200 million. 1,000,000 deaths (estimate). 100,000 in US (estimate). Mortality rate 0.5% (estimate).

Treatment: The use of antibiotics is credited with the lower death rates in the US. In 1968, the US introduced a vaccine one month after the disease outbreak peaked.

Summary: As with most flus, this disease ramped seasonally in the winter months of 1968, 1969–1970, and with a reoccurence in 1972. The deadliness of the disease was highly targeted to adults aged 65 and older.

Source data:

Coronovirus (COVID-19)

(2019-??) — data as of 03/20/2020

Date epidemic began: 2019

Geographic Reach: Global

Total Cases: 259,273. 10,546 deaths.

Transmission: Person to person contact (the disease can be passed through hard surfaces, coughing and sneezing)

Treatment: There are tests for coronavirus but a vaccination has not yet been introduced.

Summary: This virus has lead to unprecedented measures by governments throughout the world. Businesses, air travel and social gatherings shut downs have been mandated in numerous countries. The disease is deadliest for older people with 80-year-olds and older comprising a high percentage of the deaths. The disease is highly contagious and many younger people are asymptomatic.

Source data:

Coronavirus comparison

Like the 1968 Hong Kong Flu, Coronavirus is most deadly for seniors. It is highly contagious and shares that attribute with with 2009 Swine Flu, 1968 Hong Kong Flu and the 1918 Spanish Flu. Although the current death rate is showing a very high 4% of reported cases, this mortality rate is likely to drop considerably as more widespread COVID-19 tests become available. With young people often being asymptomatic, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections is highly weighted to the most severe cases. As the flu season ends, there should be a respite in the growth of the disease and an opportunity for the medical companies to deliver a vaccine before the 2020 flu season begins.

The worldwide effort to blunt the growth of the disease seems to be working, though the economic damage of the effort may prove to be massive. It will be important for older and more vulnerable people to prepare for the next 2020 flu season with a COVID-19 vaccine assuming one is introduced by that time. The possibility of a second wave of the disease in the 2020 flu season is high.

NOTE: We are still not through the 2019–2020 flu season and the cases are currently growing at a rapid rate. The speculation that this growth curb will drop as the traditional flu season ends (typically April in most countries) is merely speculative and based on previous flu epidemics patterns.

CEO & Founder. Gogocater.