IT starts with seemingly innocent cold-like symptoms – a runny nose, headache, fever, sore throat.
But this new strain of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan City in central China and has since spread throughout Asia and to the US is far deadlier than the common cold.
It has claimed 132 lives already and with more than 6,000 confirmed cases in countries across the world, including the US, Japan, Thailand, Germany and France.
Wuhan, the city of 11 million people at the epicentre of the outbreak, has since been put on lockdown with no flights to or from the city.
But there are fears the airborne virus has infected thousands more, with one expert estimating 100,000 people could be infected across the globe.
Meanwhile health bosses fear the new strain will hit the UK this week. So far 130 people have been tested across the country – all have been confirmed negative by the Department of Health.
The World Health Organisation is not yet calling this a global emergency – but how deadly is this outbreak?
Existing data concludes a rough fatality rate of two percent, meaning one in 50 people die of the infection. Some 15 to 20 percent of cases are severe, meaning people require hospital treatment or ventilation as the disease causes a pneumonia-like illness.
While the SARS-like virus, known as 2019-nCoV, is fast becoming an international cause for concern, it is still a far cry from the virus pandemics in the past, which have ravaged entire countries and claimed millions of lives.
Here we take a closer look at the worst ever pandemic viruses to date.
The Antonine Plague
It was a case of pass the plague in 165 A.D. when an early case of smallpox broke out.
Known as the Antonine plague, it began with the Huns who then infected the Germans, who passed it onto the Romans whose troops spread it throughout the Roman Empire.
Galen, a Greek physician, witnessed the outbreak and recorded the symptoms: blackish diarrhoea, which suggested gastrointestinal bleeding, intensive coughing, foul-smelling breath and red and black skin eruptions all over their body.
The total deaths have been estimated at five million, and the disease killed as much as one-third of the population in some areas and devastated the Roman army.
This plague continued until about 180 A.D, claiming Emperor Marcus Aurelius as one of its victims.
The Black Death
From 1346 to 1353 an outbreak of the Black Death ravaged Europe, Africa and Asia, with an estimated death toll between 75 and 200million people.
Thought to have originated in Asia, the Plague most likely jumped continents via fleas living on rats that lived aboard merchant ships.
It took ten to fourteen days before the plague killed off most of a contaminated rat colony, by which time, after three days of fasting, hungry rat fleas would then turn on humans, their bite causing a swelling – or “bubo” — most often in the groin, on the thigh, in an armpit or on the neck.
Hence the name "bubonic plague."
The infection took three to five days to incubate in people before they fell ill, and another three to five days before, in 80 per cent of the cases, the victims died.
The Black Death began in London in the poor, overcrowded parish of St. Giles-in-the-Field and ended up wiping out 15 percent of the population during that terrible summer.
When it hit a household, the house was sealed, a red cross painted on the door and the whole family was condemned to death.
Dead bodies became so prevalent that many remained rotting on the ground and it created a constant stench.
The Spanish flu pandemic, often regarded as one of the deadliest in history, killed an estimated 50million people of the 500million it infected as it tore through Europe in 1918 and travelled to the US, killing 675,000 Americans.
By comparison, the First World War, which ended in 1918, had around 20million deaths.
The first wave of the 1918 pandemic occurred in the spring and was generally mild with the sick experiencing typical flu symptoms such as chills, fever and fatigue then recovering after several days.
However, a second, highly contagious wave appeared with a vengeance in autumn of that same year and victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate.
At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat it. Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theatres and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues with many having to dig graves for their own family members.
It became known around the world as the Spanish flu, as Spain was hit hard by the disease and not subject to the wartime news blackouts that affected other European countries.
What separated the 1918 flu pandemic from other influenza outbreaks was the victims — instead of killing young people and the elderly, it struck down completely healthy young adults, while leaving children and those with weaker immune systems still alive.
By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity.
Asian Flu was a pandemic outbreak of Influenza A of the H2N2 subtype that originated in China in 1956 and lasted until 1958.
In the first few months, it spread throughout China and its regions but by the midsummer it had reached the United States, where it initially infected relatively few people.
Several months later, however, numerous cases of infection were reported, especially in young children, the elderly, and pregnant women.
The pandemic also reached the UK and by December a total of 3,550 deaths had been reported in England and Wales.
Estimates for the death toll vary depending on the source, but the World Health Organization places the final tally at approximately 2million, 69,800 of those in the US alone.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus transmitted primarily by the aggressive blood-sucking Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and symptoms included fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.
In May 2015, the first local transmission of Zika virus was reported in Brazil and researchers believed the virus was introduced during the August 2014 World Sprint Championship canoe race, held in Rio de Janeiro, which attracted participants from four Pacific Island nations, including French Polynesia, with active Zika transmission.
The virus soon spread and affected more than 1.5million people in 68 countries, thanks to the mosquito’s ability to thrive in city life, flourishing in litter, open ditches, clogged drains, old tyre dumps and crowded flimsy dwellings.
The virus was also linked to thousands of babies in Brazil being born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder where the baby had an underdeveloped brain and an abnormally small head.
There were also a rising number of stillbirths and miscarriages in mothers infected with the virus.
The children that did survive faced intellectual disability and developmental delays.
Hong Kong Flu
From the first reported case on July 13, 1968 in Hong Kong, it took only 17 days before outbreaks of this virus — referred to as the Hong Kong Flu — were reported in Singapore and Vietnam, and within three months had spread to The Philippines, India, Australia, Europe, and the United States.
While the 1968 pandemic had a comparatively low mortality rate, it still resulted in the deaths of more than a million people, including 500,000 residents of Hong Kong itself, approximately 15 per cent of its population at the time.
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