Review Article

COVID-19 Compared to Other Pandemic Diseases

Silvio Daniel Pitlik


In December 2019, the first cases of a new contagious disease were diagnosed in the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China. Within a short period of time the outbreak developed exponentially into a pandemic that infected millions of people, with a global death toll of more than 500,000 during its first 6 months. Eventually, the novel disease was named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and the new virus was identified as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Similar to all known pandemics throughout history, COVID-19 has been accompanied by a large degree of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and economic disaster worldwide. Despite multiple publications and increasing knowledge regarding the biological secrets of SARS-CoV-2, as of the writing of this paper, there is neither an approved vaccine nor medication to prevent infection or cure for this highly infectious disease. Past pandemics were caused by a wide range of microbes, primarily viruses, but also bacteria. Characteristically, a significant proportion of them originated in different animal species (zoonoses). Since an understanding of the microbial cause of these diseases was unveiled relatively late in human history, past pandemics were often attributed to strange causes including punishment from God, demonic activity, or volatile unspecified substances. Although a high case fatality ratio was common to all pandemic diseases, some striking clinical character¬istics of each disease allowed contemporaneous people to clinically diagnose the infection despite null microbiological information. In comparison to past pandemics, SARS-CoV-2 has tricky and complex mech¬anisms that have facilitated its rapid and catastrophic spread worldwide.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2020;11(3):e0027