History of Epidemics in the United States

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With the widespread cases of people afflicted with Covid-19, it can be depressing to hear about the total number of people affected by this disease. Added to that stress is knowing that with the closing of businesses--both temporary and permanent--jobs are lost and the road to economic recovery will be a long one. 

Historically, this isn’t the first virulent epidemic in the United States, there have been several instances:

  1. HIV/AIDS Epidemic: The first case of the HIV/AIDs infection was in New York City in 1981--at the time doctors didn’t know what the disease was and what was causing it ¹. As of 2017, there are over 37 million people worldwide living with this infection. To commemorate those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS and to raise awareness on this issue, December 1st is known as World Aids Day².
  2. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (Spanish Flu):  H1N1 was one of the most fatal diseases in the United States history. People from nearly all ages were at risk: those who are 5 years old or younger, 20-40, and 65 and older were vulnerable to the disease³. Worldwide, 50 million people died; 675,000 of them are from the United States⁴. While it is often called the "Spanish Flu" that is a misnomer--the actual origin of the outbreak is unknown⁵. 
  3. Polio: One of the few diseases that has been virtually wiped out in the United States for over 30 years⁶. Polio affected more than 37,000 people per year in the US alone⁷.

The one thing these three epidemics have in common is that things have gotten better. While it might not bring a lot of immediate solace to what’s going on, it is a re-affirming reminder that bad things do get better. 

As the pandemic continues, it’s important to take care of your physical and mental health.  Click on the links below for some great resources and tips on what you can do: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html




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 ¹NYC Aids Memorial, The New York City AIDS Memorial, nycaidsmemorial.org/timeline/.

² ibid

³ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, History of 1918 Flu Pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2018, www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm.


⁵Andrews, Evan, “Why Was It Called the 'Spanish Flu?'.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Jan. 2016, https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu

⁶ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Polio Elimination in the U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, 25 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/polio-us.html.