List of Worst Epidemics in India Since the 1900s

Amid COVID-19 or Coronavirus outbreak, India has been hit by many major outbreaks since the 1900s. Here, is the timeline of the outbreaks happened since the 1900s in India.
Major epidemics in India
Major epidemics in India

India has witnessed many outbreaks since the 1990s such as the SARS outbreak, swine flu outbreak, etc. but none of the outbreaks was as widespread and as fatal as COVID-19. Here, in this article, we will tell you about the major outbreaks that India has witnessed since the 1990s. 

What is an epidemic?

According to WHO, the occurrence in a community or region of cases of illness, specific health-related behavior,  or other health-related events is 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.

Also, read about International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.

1915 - 1926: Encephalitis Lethargica

It is also known as lethargic encephalitis. It was an epidemic that spread around the world between 1915 -1926. Encephalitis lethargica was an acute contagious disease where the virus attacked the central nervous system of human beings. The main characteristics of this disease were increasing languor, apathy, drowsiness, and lethargy. It spread through nasal and oral secretions. Encephalitis Lethargica was in its epidemic form in Europe but it was still sporadic in India. 

1918 - 1920: Spanish Flu

While the world was still fighting with Encephalitis Lethargica, a new virus spread out and was known as the Spanish Flu. Spanish flu was caused by the deadly strain of avian influenza and was spread due to World War I. In India, the Indian soldiers who were a part of World War I became the carriers of this disease. 

1961 - 1975: Cholera pandemic

Since 1817, Vibrio Cholerae (a type of bacteria) caused seven cholera pandemics globally. Within a time period of 5 years, this virus spread in parts of Asia from where it reached Bangladesh and India. The poor water sanitization practices in Kolkata made the city epicenter of the Cholera pandemic in India. 

1968 - 1969: Flu Pandemic

In 1968, the Flu spread in Hong Kong and was caused due to the H3N2 strain of influenza A virus and within two months it reached India. American soldiers returning from Vietnam after the Vietnam War became the carrier of this virus to the US. 

1974: Smallpox Epidemic

Smallpox was caused by either of the two virus variants: Variola major or Variola minor. According to the reports, 60% of the smallpox cases globally were reported in India and were more virulent as compared to other parts of the world. To get rid of this alarming situation, India launched the National Smallpox Eradication Program (NSEP) but failed to get the desired results. To help India with this alarming situation, WHO along with the Soviet Union sent some medical assistance to India and in March 1977 India was free from smallpox.

1994: Plague in Surat

In September 1994, the pneumonic plague hit surat and people fled from the city in large numbers. Rumors along with the misinformation worsen the situation and people hoarded the essential supplies. The mass migration from Surat to other parts of the country spread the disease across India. The main cause of the Plague was unhygienic conditions in the city such as open drains, poor sewage system, etc. However, the local government of Surat cleared the garbage and clogged drains, thus, managing the Plague. 

2002 - 2004: SARS

After the 21st century, SARS was the first severe disease that was transmissible from one person to another. It was a severe acute respiratory syndrome and the cause of SARS was similar to COVID-19, named SARS CoV. This virus was known for frequent mutations and was transmissible from one person to another through coughing and sneezing. 

2006: Dengue and Chikungunya Outbreak

Dengue and Chikungunya Outbreaks both were mosquito-borne typical diseases and the stagnation of water in different parts of the country provided breeding grounds for these mosquitos. It affected people across India. Several parts of the country were impacted due to these outbreaks and the highest number of patients were reported in the national capital i.e., Delhi. 

2009: Gujarat Hepatitis Outbreak

Many people in February 2009 in Gujarat were infected with Hepatitis B which was caused by the transmission of the infected blood and other body fluids. Local doctors of Gujarat were suspected of causing this outbreak with contaminated and used syringes. 

2014 - 2015: Odisha Jaundice Outbreak

Odisha witnessed an outbreak of Jaundice in September 2014 and the main cause was suspected to be the contaminated water. As per the reports, the drain water seeped through pipelines of drinking water making it unhealthy for drinking. 

2014-2015: Swine flu outbreak

During the end months of 2014, several reports of the H1V1 virus started to rise. Swine flu is a type of influenza virus and in 2014, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, and Telangana were among the worst affected states due to the virus. Even after several public awareness drives, by March 2015, about 33,000 cases were reported across the country and about 2000 people lost their lives.

2017: Encephalitis outbreak

Due to mosquito bites, in the year 2017, the city of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh witnessed an increase in the number of deaths of children. These children died of Japanese encephalitis and acute encephalitis syndrome. Both of these viral infections cause inflammation of the brain which results in physical disabilities and even death in some cases.

2018: Nipah Virus outbreak

In May 2018, an infection caused by fruit bats was reported in Kerala. Within a few days of the widespread of the virus, the state government implemented several protectionary measures in order to minimize the spread of the virus. Due to the preventive measures, by the month of June, the outbreak was curbed within Kerala.

2019: Coronavirus

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans. It is zoonotic and thus can be transmitted between animals and people. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

There were major outbreaks that India has witnessed since the 1990s. These outbreaks have been eliminated from India with the help of proper hygiene and sanitization practices but COVID-19 still prevails in India as well as in other parts of the world. 

What is Coronavirus?

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