Home Biotech Insights Pandemic Outbreaks in the Past Decade: A BCC Research Overview

Pandemic Outbreaks in the Past Decade: A BCC Research Overview


BiotechStockTrader has partnered with BCC Research to bring you a look at the history of pandemic outbreaks and the effect they have globally. Posted below is a summary of the research report, available in full from BCC Research.

Pandemics are outbreaks of disease that become widespread by transmission of human-to-human infection. Throughout recent history, disease outbreaks and pandemics include Spanish flu, Hong Kong flu, SARS, H7N9, Ebola and Zika. Main features of a pandemic include broad geographic spread, disease movement, novelty, intensity, high attack rates and explosivity, limited population immunity, infectiousness and contagiousness. Pandemics adversely have affected the health of the global population and destabilized the world’s economies, social infrastructures, and both geopolitical and natural environments.

Human history has experienced major pandemics such as smallpox, cholera, plague, dengue, AIDS, influenza, extreme acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile disease and tuberculosis. Influenza pandemics are sporadic yet frequent phenomena. Since the 1500s, influenza pandemics have occurred about three times a century, or about every 10 to 50 years. Three influenza pandemics occurred in the 20th century: 1918 influenza pandemic (“Spanish flu”), 1957-1958 pandemic (“Asian flu”), and the 1968 pandemic (“Hong Kong flu”). Each pandemic harmed human life and economic growth. For example, the 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 20 million people worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) cites that pandemic as the deadliest in world history.

Reasons for Doing This Study

The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak currently challenges the global economy of all industries. It is important to review the past pandemics and gain some knowledge on its prevention, to understand the epidemiology, treatment and government preparedness in controlling the pandemics.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that thousands of lives are lost in a pandemic and the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) drops 8%, equaling more than $3 trillion from lost productivity or loss of life.

Factors Contributing to the Emergence of Infectious Diseases

According to F. Lashley in Emerging Infectious Diseases: Trends and Issues, Second Edition (New York: Springer, 2007), seven significant factors contribute to the spread of infectious diseases:

  • Human demographics and behavior.
  • Technology.
  • The role of needles.
  • Economic development and land use.
  •  International travel.
  •  Microbial adaptation.
  • Antibiotic development.

Classifying Viral Outbreaks, Epidemics and Pandemics

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has established guidelines for classifying viral outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.

CDC: Six Phases of Classification of Viral Pandemics

Phase Description
Phase 1 Virus circulating in animals with no incidents reported that cause human infections.
Phase 2 (potential for outbreak) A circulating animal virus knows how to cause infections in human. Virus is considered a potential pandemic threat.
Phase 3 (outbreak) An animal virus that causes sporadic cases or small clusters of disease. No human-to-human transmission reported.
Phase 4 (epidemic) Verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal virus with the ability to cause community-level outbreaks. Signifies a significant risk of pandemic. Notification to the WHO is appropriate.
Phase 5 (epidemic/pandemic) Human-to-human spread of the virus that spans at least two countries. Signals an imminent pandemic.
Phase 6 (pandemic) Official pandemic classification entailing widespread human outbreak of the disease. Disease must affect a minimum of least three countries.


The Next Pandemic

According to the CDC the next pandemic likely will be caused by a virus instead of a bacterium. The ability of viruses to mutate rapidly is a major factor in their pandemic potential.

A ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus, rather than a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) virus, is the best candidate for causing a pandemic because single-strand RNA is more prone to mutation. Scientists also believe the RNA virus will probably be zoonotic (i.e., a pathogen that emerges from a nonhuman animal to infect and spread from animal to humans).

To move an infection from epidemic status to a pandemic, the pathogen must reproduce efficiently and effectively. If a pathogen is so deadly that the host is killed before the pathogen can be transmitted, a pandemic is not possible. The basic reproductive number (R0) for any epidemic is the average number of subsequent infections produced by the agent (in the context of a population with no prior immunity and no control efforts). If, on average, each case of a new epidemic leads to more than one subsequent infection, the new epidemic has the potential to grow.

A Brief History of Global Pandemics

Infectious diseases have haunted humans throughout history. The plagues of biblical times, the Black Death of the Middle Ages and the Spanish influenza of 1918 have significantly influenced societies, socially and economically. The advent of global travel has promoted some infectious diseases, once endemic only to remote areas, across the globe.

The earliest recorded pandemic, the Antonine Plague, occurred between 165 AD and 180 AD. Thought to be either smallpox or measles, the pandemic was brought to Europe by soldiers returning from the Near East. It killed an estimated five million people.

Treatments for Infectious Diseases

There are several methods for treating potential pandemic infectious diseases:


Public health measures to prevent disease transmission and infection include mosquito netting, isolating infected individuals, and hand-washing and sanitizing actions.

In areas where vector-borne diseases like malaria are prevalent, preventing a mosquito bite or parasite invasion is of primary importance. The WHO, in its efforts to prevent malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, has become the world’s largest purchaser of mosquito netting.


Vaccines are available to prevent many infectious diseases, including associated with epidemics like measles. Vaccination has significantly lowered the global number of hepatitis A and B cases and almost eradicated smallpox. Current research focuses on developing vaccines to prevent HIV, hepatitis C, malaria and influenza transmission.

Pharmaceutical Treatments

Pharmaceutical intervention has decreased the severity of many infectious diseases and holds promise of controlling chronic diseases. One example is HIV. At its inception, HIV infection had a nearly 100% mortality rate. Antiretroviral therapy has rendered HIV/AIDS a chronic disease that is manageable through a combination of drugs.

Look for our next article to further explore and dissect the history of previous global pandemics. To read the full BCC Research report please click here.

About BCC Research

BCC Research has produced reliable market research reports and forecasts for more than 50 years. Our company, founded in 1971 as Business Communications Company (BCC) Inc. by Louis Naturman, quickly proved itself as a leading market information resource, directed by analysts and editors with verified industry experience.

We began producing research and forecasts reports in the advanced materials and plastics markets. In response to demand in the greater-Boston area for market research in biotech, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and information technology, BCC Research expanded into new markets. Today, BCC Research publishes reports in 25 distinct verticals and provides even more intel through partnerships with other market research providers.

For decades, our market sizing, forecasting and industry intelligence have contributed to smart business decisions-especially in markets where scientific and technological advances are at the forefront of improving businesses, economies, public welfare and quality of life.


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Sarah Greenberg

Senior Content Strategist




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