Epidemics and Pandemics in India throughout History: A Review Article

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DOI: 10.5958/0976-5506.2019.02328.3
Cite this publication
Abstract
India has encountered several epidemics and pandemics throughout history. This review article talks about such outbreaks known to have occurred in the 19th-21st century and are arranged in accordance to chronology. For this review, a variety of sources were used by searching through PubMed, NCBI and several others. Different forms of prints such as books, websites, and journals were used as references in this article. The necessity to review this title is because the information is scattered and to source them and compile them into a single article could help the medical practitioners and healthcare workers to understand what this country has been through in the past and what reforms have to be made by them, the community and the government in preventing such outbreaks in the future.
Epidemics and Pandemics in India throughout
History: A Review Article
Swetha G1, Anantha Eashwar V M2, Gopalakrishnan S2
1UG Student, 2Professor, Department of Community Medicine, SBMCH, Chrompet, Chennai
Abstract
India has encountered several epidemics and pandemics throughout history. This review article talks
about such outbreaks known to have occurred in the 19th-21st century and are arranged in accordance to
chronology. For this review, a variety of sources were used by searching through PubMed, NCBI and several
others. Different forms of prints such as books, websites, and journals were used as references in this article.
The necessity to review this title is because the information is scattered and to source them and compile
them into a single article could help the medical practitioners and healthcare workers to understand what
this country has been through in the past and what reforms have to be made by them, the community and the
government in preventing such outbreaks in the future.
Keywords: epidemics, skin deciencies
Introduction
India, being a third-world country, has encountered
a variety of epidemics and pandemics through time.
Several accounts of inuenza, cholera, dengue, smallpox
and several others have been recorded throughout
history; while we have been able to eradicate some; many
diseases still continue to pose a threat to the community.
It is not uncommon for sudden and rapid outbreaks to
occur in India and many articles direct the cause for this
in such developing countries being malnutrition, lack of
sanitation and lack of a proper public health system [1,2].
According to Park, epidemics is an unusual occurrence
in a community or region of disease, specic health-
related behavior or other health-related events clearly
in excess of expected occurrence. It is a sudden, severe
widespread outbreak of a disease pre-existing in the
community. A study by John T. Watson, et all analyses
the relationship between epidemics and natural disasters
and establishes that there is a rise in the occurrence of
epidemics post-disaster though incidence in India has not
been emphasized [3]. However, another article by Sen
Corresponding Author:
Swetha G
UG Student, Department of Community Medicine,
SBMCH, Chrompet, Chennai
states those in recent years, cholera outbreaks in India
have been due to the breakdown of sanitation during
natural disasters [4]. A study by Moore, Cristopher, and
Mark displays that the epidemic trends modify when the
transmission exceeds the threshold station the infectious
nature of it [5]. Pandemics, on the other hand, refer to the
worldwide spread of diseases. These are the global health
problems that need to be addressed and treated viciously
along with proper measures to avoid transmission to
other countries. There have been a signicant number
of pandemics throughout history and in many instances;
their control had been difcult because of the lack of
a proper, working global surveillance system [6].
These pandemics show trends of developing microbial
resistance and as a result, the death toll is usually high
in pandemics than epidemics as concluded by the study
comparing the mortality rate of inuenza pandemic and
epidemic [7]. As far as India is concerned, there have
been only two major, signicant pandemics throughout
history. While cholera had been predominant throughout
the 19th century with increasing death tolls every year,
the inuenza pandemic came later on in the early 20th
century [8,9]. The inuenza pandemic was short but
devastating and after a long time, quite recently, came
yet another u pandemic by the H1N1 strain [10].
Though, it is almost impossible to analyze all epidemics
and Pandemics throughout Indian history, effort has
been made to include most of the signicant ones.
1504 Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development, August 2019, Vol. 10, No. 8
19th Century:
Ist Cholera Pandemic (1817):
This is considered to be the rst major epidemic
of the 19th century in British-colonized India and was
described as probably the most terrifying of all [11]. The
rst case was reported on 23rd August 1817 by a civil
surgeon of Jessore [12].The overall estimation of the
mortality is not available as the data collection in India
began much later, probably in the late 1860s. As for the
geography, it is important to note that the year 1817
had brought a very heavy rainfall leading to ooding
which could have been the cause for such a rapid spread
[13]. While the Europeans living in India then and the
elite were not seriously affected, the slum dwellers and
people in rural poverty were hit the worst [14]. This was
probably due to the differences in living conditions,
personal hygiene and practices.
IInd Cholera Pandemic (1829):
The second outbreak started around 1826 from
Bengal and spread through the rivers to various parts
of northern India. After affecting the United Provinces
(UP), its impact was huge on areas around Punjab and
Delhi but most signicant is its pandemic spread to
countries like China [12,15]. Cholera spread far and
wide, all along the trade routes from China affecting
several cities and villages alike. In each place, it lasted
for a few weeks and killed hundreds of people everyday
[16].
IIIrd Cholera Pandemic (1852):
This third cholera pandemic started around 1852
and lasted till the late 1860s. It is signicant in history
because of its spread to countries that were until then not
affected. Though India was not its major area of impact,
in the later phase of pandemic, small spurts of cases
were noted in Bengal. It spread to several other countries
like Persia, Arabia and then to Russia[12,15]. This was
due to the worldwide spread of El Tor serotype of Vibrio
which was initially endemic to India [17].
IVth Cholera Pandemic (1863):
This began around 1863. While some suggest that the
major cholera epidemic in 1865 was brought to Mecca
by the Haj pilgrims from India,others disagree stating
that it was a just a recrudescence [18,15]. However, it is
agreed that it was from Mecca that the infection spread to
several countries [19,20]. The Kumbh Mela at Hardwar
in April 1867 has been considered to be responsible for
the epidemic spread of cholera in northern India [11].
The Madras Presidency in 1877 was the worst hit and
the cholera epidemic was responsible for about 10% of
the annual mortality then [21].
Vth Cholera Pandemic (1881):
The fth cholera pandemic was considerably less
fatal as compared to the previous four. It was during this
pandemic (1881-1869) that Robert Koch proved that
cholera was transmitted through the fecal-oral route,
after studying the outbreaks in Calcutta and Egypt [22].
It spread to United Provinces and Punjab after which it
spread to other countries like Afghanistan, Persia, parts
of Russia and then to Europe[23].
Bombay Plague Epidemic (1896):
This plague began in September 1896 in colonial
Bombay creating a lot of social and political frenzy. The
rapid growth of commerce in Bombay led to an increase
in population and thereby overcrowding. The anti-plague
campaign was started to battle this epidemic and it was
based on the belief that the focus of the infections was
from the slums. The plague killed thousands and many
people were forced out of the city [24].
VIth Cholera Pandemic (1899):
The sixth cholera pandemic began around 1899 and
major outbreaks were noted in Bombay, Calcutta, and
Madras [8]. While the infection throughout the 20th
century was caused by O1 serotype of Vibrio cholera
and conned mostly through the Asian subcontinent,
the sixth cholera pandemic brought about surprising
challenges. This cholera infection was caused by an
unknown, non-O1 serotype of V.cholera and spread to
many distant countries including the United States [25].
The sixth cholera pandemic lasted for about 25 years
(1899-1973)[26].
20th Century
Inuenza Pandemic (1918):
This is also known as the Spanish Flu of 1918-19.
This has been known to have caused around 20- 50 million
deaths worldwide and is considered most devastating
[27]. This was caused by the H1N1 strain of Inuenza
and was severe. The rst episode of the disease began
Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development, August 2019, Vol. 10, No. 8 1505
in early 1918 and later in autumn, it began to spread all
around the world, India considered to be the foci [28].
The second wave of the attack began in Bombay in 1918
and spread to other parts of northern India and Sri Lanka
from where it spread worldwide [29]. Improvement in
the virulence and velocity of the virus strain and the
monsoon bringing humidity are considered to be the key
factors in increasing the severity and spread [28].
Polio Epidemic (1970-1990):
India was the worst affected by polio among the
developing countries until the late 1990s after which the
EPI was initiated [30]. The incidence of polio in India
was very high in both urban and rural states and the most
affected was the state of Uttar Pradesh [31]. Its worst
sequel was reported to be post-polio paralysis and in the
district of Vellore, about 6/1000 preschool children were
affected [32]. It was in 1964 in Bombay and 1965 in
Vellore that the oral polio vaccine was introduced [33].
India had a choice between Salk’s IPV and Sabin’s OPV.
Even after the introduction of the OPV in EPI there was
no improvement to be noted for 10 years [33]. But with
improvement in surveillance, the desired results were
achieved and India was declared polio-free status in
January 2011 and emphasis has been laid on maintaining
the guard to prevent resurgence [30].
Small Pox Epidemic (1974):
It is known as one of the worst small pox epidemics
of the 20th century. India contributed to about 85% of
this epidemic worldwide. This epidemic broke out in
three different villages of West Bengal, Bihar and Odissa
but it was impossible to establish a connection between
the men hence it was treated as three different epidemics.
The disease was introduced into different areas by
different sources. While over 15,000 people died in this
epidemic, thousands of the survived but most of them
but most ended up with disgurement and blindness
[34, 35]. Small pox was eradicated in by the WHO
small pox eradication program. It was the rst disease
to be combated globally and was declared eradicated by
WHO in 1980 [36].
Surat Plague Epidemic (1994):
Plague cases in Surat were rst reported in Sept
1994 and which it spread to other cities in India. Fewer
than 1,200 people were found positive and it lasted for
less than two weeks but it is considered important due
to its high fatality and created worldwide repercussions.
It is said to have been initially difcult for doctors to
diagnose it but when they did, all necessary precautions
are taken to contain its spread [37].
21st Century
(2001-2003)
Plague of Northern India (2002):
The Plague of Northern India broke out in Shimla
district of Himachal Pradesh in February 2002. It was
a small and less serious epidemic. Also, as soon as the
plague was detected, immediate measures were taken
like fumigation, evacuation, and chemoprophylaxis that
lead to further control of the epidemic [38].
Dengue Epidemic (2003):
In 2003 during September, there occurred an
outbreak of DF/DHF in Delhi. It reached its peak around
October-November and lasted until early December.
The mortality rate was around 3%.It became a major
outbreak in India in spite of the widespread preventive
measures taken to control DF [39].
SARS Epidemic (2003):
SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), is
considered as the rst serious infectious disease out
break of the twenty-rst century. It initially started in the
Guandong province of China in 2003 and spread quickly
to about 30 countries across Asia, Americas and Europe
and accounted for a total of 8,439 cases and 812 deaths,
within 7 to 8 months [40,41].
(2004-2006)
Meningococcal Meningitis Epidemic (2005):
In early 2005, a sudden surge had been noted
in meningococcemia and meningococcal meningitis
cases in India. Cases were reported from Delhi and the
surrounding states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharastra.
Around 430 cases of meningococcal meningitis were
reported as of June 2005 [42]. Case management, early
detection through surveillance was aimed at prevention
of spread [43].
Chikungunya Outbreak (2006):
Around 3.4 million cases of Chikungunya were
reported in Ahmedabad 2006 with 2,944 deaths
1506 Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development, August 2019, Vol. 10, No. 8
estimated. The mortality rate in 2006 epidemic was
substantially increased when compared with that
in the previous four years [44]. In December, there
occurred another epidemic in South India where the
states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
were affected. The volatile nature of this epidemic was
attributed to the herd immunity to the then isolated
genotype [45].Major efforts were taken for mosquito
control and several awareness campaigns were initiated
by the television and print media [46].
Dengue Outbreak (2006):
The outbreak began in early September of 2006
and the rst case was reported from Delhi. By the
end of September, it began to spread to other states
like Rajasthan, Kerala, Gujarat, Chandigarh and Uttar
Pradesh [47]. The ministry of health set up a control
room to monitor the outbreak and provide technical
assistance that led to the efcient management of the
disease [48].
(2007-2010)
Gujarat Jaundice epidemic (2009):
Modasa town in Gujarat witnessed the outbreak of
hepatitis B in 2009[49] This is of signicance because
almost all outbreaks of viral hepatitis in India were
considered to be due to hepatitis E which is feco-orally
transmitted [50]. It was a long-lasting epidemic and
control was achieved by mass public awareness and
health actions.
H1N1 Flu Pandemic (2009):
The H1N1 Flu pandemic began in May 2009 and
spread globally by July 2009. By August 2010, it was
declared pandemic and around 18,500 deaths were
reported from all around the world [51, 52]. Three strains
of inuenza viruses were circulating then of which the
Inf A (H1N1) and Inf A (H3N2) viruses were largely
replaced by the pdm H1N1 strain [53,54].
(2011-2014)
Odisha Jaundice Epidemic (2014):
The outbreak began in November 2014 in Kantalbai,
a remote village in Odissa. This led to a district level
investigation and it was conrmed to be jaundice
caused by the Hepatitis E virus [55]. This 2014 Odisha
Jaundice epidemic was one of the many outbreaks in
Odisha and the most common cause being HEV [56].
This is transmitted enterically and has affected several
people, especially of the low socioeconomic category.
Surveillance for clean water and sanitation was proposed
as the control measure [57].
(2015-2018)
Indian Swine Flu Outbreak (2015):
It refers to the outbreak of the 2009 H1N1 u
pandemic in India which was still present as of March
2015. This outbreak in 2015 is considered as a resurgence
of the infection and the most plausible reasons are
considered to be low temperature, decreasing host
immunity and failure of vaccination campaign after 2010
[58]. According to the NCDC data in India, Rajasthan,
Maharastra, and Gujarat were the worst affected states in
India during this pandemic [59].
Nipah Outbreak (2018):
The virus was rst noted in the late 1990s in
Singapore and Malaysia. The natural host for this
disease is the fruit bat and transmission is from direct
person to person contact [60]. This Nipah virus outbreak
began in May 2018 in Kozhikode District, Kerala. This
is the rst Nipah virus outbreak reported in Kerala and
the third known to have occurred in India, with the most
recent previous outbreak being in 2007 [61]. Spread of
awareness about this infection, isolation of the infected
and post-outbreak surveillance led to the control of this
outbreak [62].
Conclusion
India has stood strong through several epidemics
and pandemics. Good medical care and efcient
researches have made it possible to ght every infection
and luckily, we have been able to even eradicate a few. It
can be established that throughout time, many infectious
diseases have become widespread due to the mere lack
of sanitation and crowded environment. The tropical
climate and the seasonal rains in India is yet another
important factor contributing to several vector-borne
infections outbreaks in the past and many more to come.
Though it has been difcult to compile all the epidemics
and pandemics due to lack of sufciently available data
and errors in data preservation, sincere efforts have been
put into including most of the important, notable ones.
This is written with a hope that it may help medical
Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development, August 2019, Vol. 10, No. 8 1507
professionals understand where they had gone wrong in
controlling an outbreak in the past or how they succeeded
to lead by example. It is also a sad truth that India will
have to face several more such outbreaks in the days
to come but preparedness has to be given immense
importance and control of spread should be the number
one priority of the doctors and other health care workers.
Ethical Clearance- No ethical clearance was
necessary for this research work
Source of Funding- Self funded project
Conict of Interest – Nil
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