Viral Video That Claims Pandemics Happen Every 100 Years Debunked

An Instagram video that claims pandemics occur every 100 years—attracting over 650,000 views—has been flagged by the social media app as false information.

The clip, shared on April 25 by Carter Escapule, has been debunked by fact checkers of the Agence France-Presse news agency.

In the video, a seemingly young boy claims: "Pandemics happen EVERY 100 years.. The great plague (1720), the cholera outbreak (1820), the Spanish flu (1920), coronavirus (2019/2020)."

However, AFP points out that the dates of two pandemics are incorrect—the Spanish flu started in 1918, not 1920. And the cholera outbreak of 1820 mentioned in the video appears to refer to one that is believed to have originated in Jessore, India, in 1817.

Speaking to AFP, Scott Podolsky, global health and social medicine professor at Harvard Medical School, also explained that the video falsely calls one of the outbreaks a pandemic.

He said: "(It) calls the 1720 'great plague' a pandemic when it wasn't (because) it was localized in France.

"An epidemic is generally regional (community, nation, etc), while a pandemic spreads across multiple regions."

A World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman told AFP that the video also leaves out other notable pandemics.

Elizabeth O'Brien, assistant professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University said: "No, it is not true that pandemics happen every 100 years.

"Stating so would fall into determinism and would ignore many other notable pandemics, including cholera in the 19th century as well as the 1957-1958 influenza pandemic (H2N2 virus), and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic."

Coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, at the tail end of 2019, and has gone on to claim more than 3 million lives worldwide.

Another conspiracy theory emerged recently on the internet, saying that the U.S. had built a COVID-sensing microchip that can be injected into the body.

Many on Twitter shared the claim, including right-wing activist Chuck Woolery—also famous for hosting game shows like Wheel of Fortune—who linked to an article that called it an "Orwellian nightmare."

Some of the claims on Twitter had apparently been based on a 60 Minutes interview by Dr. Matt Hepburn, a military doctor who formerly worked for DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

On the CBS show, he said he had been told by DARPA to "take pandemics off the table" and discussed ongoing military research projects, including a sensor that is placed underneath the skin that uses a light signal to indicate whether or not someone is ill.

He said: "That signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow."

Although the technology does go under the skin, it is not a microchip, and will not detect COVID.

He later told Newsweek: "No microchip, no electronics, none of that stuff. It wouldn't tell you if you had influenza or if you had COVID."

He was in fact referring to a hydrogel that can respond to certain substances in the body, through various chemical reactions, by emitting a dim glow. This can then be detected by a sensor and thus indicate that a person might be getting ill.

Hepburn clarified: "If you can sense tissue-level lactate, what happens when someone is starting to get sick is that those tissue lactate levels start to rise.

"And especially if they start rising pretty high it means you're getting pretty sick pretty fast.

"It just tells you that there might be something wrong, and you would complement that with a specific COVID test, or test for other pathogens, so you could then make a pathogen-specific diagnosis of what's making you sick."

Doctors checking coronavirus
A stock image of two doctors on a COVID ward. An Instagram video claiming pandemics happen every century has been debunked. Getty Images

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts