Covid-19 compared to other pandemics this century

According to microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, compared to other pandemics this century Covid-19 is a bad roll of the dice.

Stuff: We lost this round of pandemic dice

I think it helps to think of these outbreaks and pandemics as a handful of dice.

The dice represent:

  • The microbe and how it spreads.
  • What symptoms it causes.
  • How it can be treated and prevented.
  • How each dice falls influences how the outbreak plays out.

With Covid-19, we’ve rolled almost the worst possible combination, with a collection of ones.

Covid isn’t as lethal as the likes of Ebola, but as symptoms are often not noticed or mild, and take time to present, Covid can spread before it is discovered.

Wiles details the other pandemics in the last 20 years, and compares aspects of them to Covid.

Sars (2002-2004)

Sars appeared in late 2002, also caused by a coronavirus that spreads through the respiratory route. Unlike Covid-19, people with Sars had a high fever early in their infection. That made it easier to identify infected people and stop human-to-human transmission.

By mid-2004, Sars was gone and hasn’t been seen since. By then 8000 people had been infected and over 800 had died. Cases had spread to almost 30 countries and territories.

Covid-19 also emerged in a globally connected part of the world and at a time of year when lots of people were moving about.

H1N1 (early 2009 to August 2010)

H1N1 was a variant of the influenza viruses from humans, birds, and pigs that caused a pandemic from early 2009 to August 2010. Like normal seasonal flu, H1N1 spread through the respiratory route. But unlike normal flu, it was more likely to cause breathing difficulties in young, healthy people. Thankfully, a vaccine was available by late 2009. It’s thought H1N1 caused about 500,000 deaths. 

That was over about 18 months.

Ebola (December 2013-June 2016)

The largest Ebola outbreak began in Guinea, West Africa in December 2013 and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ebola transmits through bodily fluids from symptomatic people. That means it’s easier to stop than Covid-19, in which people are infectious before they realise they have the virus.

While vaccines were in clinical trials by mid-2015, the Ebola outbreak was mainly brought under control by stopping human-to-human transmission. It also helped that it was in a part of the world that isn’t quite so globally connected. The outbreak was officially declared over in June 2016. By then over 28,000 people had been infected and over 11,000 had died.

Ebola had a very high death rate for those infected, but was much more easily contained.

Zika (2015-2016)

Zika is the virus that causes babies to be born with small heads. It’s spread by mosquito bite and caused an outbreak in the Americas, Pacific, and Southeast Asia in 2015 and 2016. In many mosquito species, the females feed on people one time before laying their eggs. Zika is carried by mosquitoes that feed more than once. As a result, they spread the virus from infected to uninfected people as they ate. The outbreak was largely controlled by getting rid of mosquitoes carrying the virus.

Current Covid totals (Worldometer):

  • Total detected cases – 25 million
  • Total attributed deaths – 848,925

The closest comparison is H1N1, with about half the deaths. A vaccine was available within the year it began but it still nearly a year to eliminate it.

New Zealand has got off lightly so far, with just 1,729 cases and 22 deaths.

Initially Australia had a comparable result but after a big outbreak in Victoria cases have jumped to 25,166 and deaths to 611.

We have been mostly successful at containing Covid but the current outbreak in Auckland is a concern. It shows how quickly things can change.

Pope no abortion, maybe to contraception over Zika

The Catholic Church and the Pope have strongly rejected abortion for women who have the Zika virus, but the  Pope has that avoiding pregnancy (using contraception) is ‘not an absolute evil’.

Crux (‘Covering all things Catholic’) reports Pope Francis signals openness to birth control for Zika virus.

In remarks to reporters on his way back to Rome from Mexico, the pope cited a decision by Pope Paul VI in the early 1960s to allow Catholic nuns in the Congo to take contraceptives to avoid pregnancy due to rape.

Avoiding a pregnancy under such circumstances, Francis said, “is not an absolute evil.” However, he did not say specifically that he would approve contraception in the fight against Zika.

Abortion is never the lesser evil, it’s a crime,” Francis said categorically. “It’s to discard one to save another one. It’s what Mafia does; it’s a crime, an absolute evil.”

Regarding the “lesser of two evils” when it comes to contraception, Francis said that it’s a fight between the 5th Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) and the 6th Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery). But he avoided giving a definitive response.

“Let’s not confuse the evil of ‘simply’ avoiding a pregnancy with abortion,” Francis said. “Abortion is not a theological problem, it’s a human, medical problem … a person is murdered to save another one, in the best of cases. In others, just to have fun.”

He called abortion an “absolute evil.”

While the current Pope has in some ways been a breath of fresh air in a stifling and stuff old world religious organisation openly supporting contraception as a protection is a modernisation too far.

The old fuddies are way out of touch on this.

Contraception is a major factor in limiting a world population explosion. It can also be an effective means of avoiding risky pregnancies.

I think it’s an absolute evil opposing and stigmatising abortion too. It’s a relic of religious patriarchy trying to control what individual women choose to do.

Contraception is widely used by many Catholics, with common sense overriding outmoded thinking.

And abortion is supported by Catholics outside the Vatican. From Wikipedia:

Abortion in Italy became legal in May 1978, when Italian women were allowed to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first 90 days. A proposal to repeal the law was considered in a 1981 national referendum, but was rejected by nearly 68% of voters; another referendum aimed at eliminating the restrictions was rejected by 88.4%.

About 80% of Italians identify as Catholic so this shows how out of touch the Vatican is with the real world around them, and how people just ignore their out of touch old rules.

One of the stupid things about the church’s stance is that sensible contraception reduces the demand for abortions.

While I prefer a minimum of abortions it’s not up to me. And in any case they can be a sensible decision.

It’s not uncommon for women to have abortions to improve the chances of having children in the best possible circumstances rather than in far from ideal circumstances.

Sure the ‘life’ aspect is something that needs to be considered, but more often than not it delays the creation of a new life.

In the modern world suppressing birth control is out of touch and irresponsible. It’s insidious victimising women as evil. It is no surprise that the Catholic rules are made by old men who never have to deal with pregnancy themselves and theoretically cut themselves off from having anything to do with procreation except for trying to impose their outdated ideas on others.