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Factbox: 500,000 COVID-19 deaths the latest of several U.S. public health crises over the years

7 minute read

Feb 22 (Reuters) - No health crisis has devastated the United States like the COVID-19 pandemic since the 1918 Spanish influenza, already killing 500,000 people, triggering the biggest decline in U.S. life expectancy since World War Two, and ranking among the biggest killers in U.S. history:


The outbreak known as the Spanish influenza killed about 675,000 people in the United States between early 1918 and early 1920, making it the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials imposed quarantines, limits on public health gatherings, and cleaning and hygiene protocols to limit the spread of the disease with no available vaccines or antibiotics, according to the agency.


More than 675,000 people with HIV/AIDS died in the United States between 1985 and 2013, CDC data show.

While there is no vaccine to prevent HIV or AIDS, antiretroviral treatments have stabilized its impact even as thousands of U.S. AIDS patients still die each year following its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It also remains among the top 10 leading causes of death among certain populations such as gay men, Blacks and Latinos, the CDC says.

The rate of death fell by nearly half between 2010 and 2018, when 15,483 adult U.S. AIDS patients died from the disease, it reported, although the rate of infection has remained flat in recent years.


Americans faced quarantines and travel restrictions when polio outbreaks dotted the country in the 1940s and 1950s before vaccines eradicated the potentially lethal virus in the United States. An average of more than 35,000 people were disabled each year in the 1940s and about 15,000 a year in the 1950s, according to the CDC. The arrival of vaccines in 1963 sharply curbed U.S. cases before largely ending them in 1979.


A viral disease spread through mosquito bites, yellow fever still persists in tropical areas of Central and South America and Africa, and travelers are urged to get vaccinated before visiting affected areas.

Until a vaccine became available in the early 1930s, the United States experienced outbreaks spread by travelers who carried the disease as far back as 1793.

The disease killed thousands of people in Baltimore, Boston, New York Philadelphia and other cities, with the last major U.S. outbreak in New Orleans in 1905, PBS reported.


Modern water treatment and sewage systems have largely wiped out the spread of the diarrhea-causing bacterial illness in the United States after waves of outbreaks in the 1800s, according to the CDC. Worldwide, the CDC estimates there are still 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths each year.

Without treatment, cholera can be fatal. In 2016, U.S. regulators approved a vaccine to prevent cholera in those traveling to areas where it is prevalent.

2009 H1N1

The swine flu pandemic of 2009, declared a worldwide epidemic by the World Health Organization, was first detected in the United States and led to an estimated 43.3 million to 89.3 million cases and between 8,868 and 18,306 U.S. deaths, according to the CDC. The U.S. health agency now considers the strain "a regular human flu virus" that circulates seasonally.

Influenza also reached epidemic levels in the United States in 2013.


The Ebola outbreak that has killed thousands of people in West Africa hit the United States in 2014 when several U.S. missionary aid workers contracted the disease and were flown back home for treatment.

In total, four patients were diagnosed with Ebola in the United States and 11 U.S. patients were treated in the country, according to the CDC. Former U.S. President Barack Obama at the time also deployed 1,300 U.S. troops to West Africa to aid in the epidemic, while the CDC also deployed more than 2,400 experts to the region.

Controversies also erupted over quarantines for healthcare workers returning from their missions in Ebola zones on the continent amid the outbreak, which was the world's worst Ebola epidemic since the disease was identified in 1976.

Drugmakers have sought to develop vaccines and treatments for the disease, which continues to break out.


Before COVID-19, heart disease and cancer were the leading causes of death in the United States, followed by accidental injuries, chronic respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease and diabetes. Kidney disease, influenza and pneumonia, and suicides were also among the top 10 leading causes of death in 2019, according to the CDC.

That year, heart disease caused 659,041 deaths, while cancer led to 599,601 deaths, CDC data showed. Accidents let to 173,040 deaths, respiratory diseases 156,979 deaths, stroke 150,005 and Alzheimer’s disease 121,499 deaths. Diabetes, kidney disease, influenza/pneumonia and suicides each accounted for fewer than 100,000 deaths.

Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Howard Goller

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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