Viral Pandemics of the Last Four Decades: Pathophysiology, Health Impacts and Perspectives

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 15;17(24):9411. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17249411.


The twenty-first century has witnessed some of the deadliest viral pandemics with far-reaching consequences. These include the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) (1981), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) (2002), Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 (A/H1N1) (2009), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) (2012) and Ebola virus (2013) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) (2019-present). Age- and gender-based characterizations suggest that SARS-CoV-2 resembles SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV with regard tohigher fatality rates in males, and in the older population with comorbidities. The invasion-mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV, involves binding of its spike protein with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors; MERS-CoV utilizes dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4), whereas H1N1 influenza is equipped with hemagglutinin protein. The viral infections-mediated immunomodulation, and progressive inflammatory state may affect the functions of several other organs. Although no effective commercial vaccine is available for any of the viruses, those against SARS-CoV-2 are being developed at an unprecedented speed. Until now, only Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine has received temporary authorization from the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Given the frequent emergence of viral pandemics in the 21st century, proper understanding of their characteristics and modes of action are essential to address the immediate and long-term health consequences.

Keywords: COVID-19; Ebola; HIV; SARS-CoV-2; influenza.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19
  • Comorbidity
  • Ebolavirus
  • Female
  • HIV
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype
  • Male
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus
  • Pandemics / history*
  • Public Health
  • SARS Virus
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Virus Diseases / physiopathology