Throughout the course of time, there have been a number of outbreaks of infectious diseases that have ended up in epidemics or worse, pandemics. These disease outbreaks have caused multiple changes within the societies, have shaped the world and its histories and some have even ended civilizations.
So here we are with 20 worst epidemics and pandemics through the history, starting from prehistoric era.
1. Prehistoric Epidemic (Circa 3000 BC)
The archaeological site of China called “Hamin Mangha” was a center of an epidemic that literally wiped out an entire village. This one of the best preserved prehistoric sites claims that the bodies of the dead who were infected from this epidemic were stuffed inside a house and was burned down. This was because the epidemic spread so quickly that there wasn’t even time to build proper burial.
2. Plague of Athens (430 BC)
During the war between Athens and Sparta, an epidemic broke out among the people of Athens and lasted for almost 5 years. The death toll estimated was 100,000. The scientists believe that this happened because of the war as the army of Sparta was stronger, they forced the population of Athens to take refuge which might have led to overcrowding and hence, the spread of the plague.
3. Antonine Plague (AD 165-180)
Also known as Plague of Galen, this epidemic is expected to be smallpox. This was brought back by the soldiers who came back to Roman Empire after campaigning. The plague is estimated to have killed over 5 million people. The epidemic is also believed to have cause the end of the Roman Peace and led to growth of instability of the Empire.
4. Plague of Cyprian (AD 250-271)
The plague is named after a bishop, St Cyprian, who predicted that the plague will cause the end of the world. This plague is believed to have killed over 5000 people a day in Rome alone. The experts are still not sure as to what caused the plague but archaeologists have found the mass burial sites and found that utmost care was taken to keep the bodies disinfected while cremating or burying them.
5. Plague of Justinian (AD 541-542)
The decline of Byzantine Empire began with the outbreak of this Bubonic plague. The experts suggest that almost 10% of the world’s population dies because of this plague. The plague was named after the Emperor Justinian who reigned from AD 527 to AD 565. Even Emperor Justinian got sick with the plague but survived.
6. The Black Death (1346-1353)
Estimates suggests that this dangerous epidemic traveled from Asia to Europe and wiped out almost half the population of Europe. Scientists have suggested that the epidemic was caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis and was spread through insects. The studies suggest that the plague changed the history of the continent and the lack of cheap labor contributed to technological revolution.
7. Cocoliztli Epidemic (1545-1548)
This epidemic killed over 15 million people in the central American and Mexico region. Studies have shown that the victims actually suffered from an infection caused by a subspecies of Salmonella which causes an enteric fever which even includes typhoid. This type of fever is still a health hazard today.
8. American Plagues of 16th Century
American Plagues is a plural as it includes a number of different diseases that were brought in by the Eurasian population during the time of invasion. These illnesses included smallpox which wiped out 90% of population of Western Hemisphere.
9. Great Plague of London (1665-1666)
This plague started in April 1665 and spread rapidly. By 1666, when the plague ended, about 15% of the population had already died. The plague was spread from fleas first, later transmitted via rodents. Towards the end of the plague, the Great fire of London started and lasted for four days, burning a large portion of the city.
10. Great Plague of Marseille (1720-1723)
Experts suggest that the Great Plague of Marseille started when a ship docked in the coastal region of Marseille, France. The cargo carried goods from eastern Mediterranean. The plague is considered to enter the city through fleas on infected rodents. As many as 100,000 people died in Marseille region.
11. Russian Plague (1770-1772)
The plague is known to have killed more than 100,000 people in Moscow. The empress of Russia, Catherine II, panicked during the plague and desperately gave a hasty order to move all the factories from Moscow. This started a number of internal riots and violence which led to a number of killings.
12. Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic (1793)
Philadelphia was the capital of United States at that time. The officials believed that the slaves were immune to this yellow fever and made all the African origins to nurse the sick which further led to transmission at a larger scale. Since the disease was being transmitted by mosquitoes, it didn’t stop until the arrival of winter which killed the mosquitoes but by then, more than 5,000 people had already died.
13. Flu Pandemic (1889-1890)
The earliest cases of this pandemic were recorded in Russia and because of industrial boom, it didn’t take longer to spread across the globe. Within five weeks of spreading, the pandemic reached its peak mortality rate killing more than 1 million people around the world.
14. American Polio Epidemic (1916)
The disease mainly had an effect on children and left most of them with permanent disabilities for their lives. The epidemic started in New York and caused more than 6,00 deaths in the United States. The vaccine was finally made in 1954 and since it became widely available, the last case of polio was reported in 1979.
15. Spanish Flu (1918-1920)
Despite the name, Spanish flu actually didn’t start in Spain but since Spain was a neutral nation during World War I and did not enforce censorship to its press, it became one of the early reporters of the disease. The flu made at least 500 million people its victim and among those, almost one fifth died.
16. Asian Flu (1957-1958)
The roots of this flu was China and as the reports suggest, the flu took more than 1 million lives. The spread of this pandemic was so quick that it took less than two months for the flu to travel from China and spread in the United States, claiming more than 100,000 lives.
17. AIDS Pandemic (1981-present)
The HIV virus that is known to cause AIDS was developed from a chimpanzee virus which was transferred to humans in late 1920s and since it conception, AIDS has taken more than 35 million lives. By the end of twentieth century, this AIDS epidemic became a pandemic and reached all nooks and corners of the world. Till date, the disease has no known cure.
18. H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic (2009-2010)
This deadly pandemic was originated in Mexico and its main prey were children and young adults. The virus infected more than 1.4 billion people and killed at least 500,000. This strain of flu virus was a bit different than the others as most flu virus infect and are proven deadly for people of age 65 and older but this H1N1 virus affected younger adults the most and more than 80% of deaths were reported in people younger than 65.
19. Western African Ebola Epidemic (2014-2016)
The first case of Ebola virus was found in Guinea in late 2013 and reported over 28,000 cases in Western Africa with more than 11,000 deaths. There is still no cure discovered for Ebola but the efforts to find vaccine are still going on. The first known cases of Ebola have been found in 1976 which are thought to have originated from bats.
20. Zika Virus Epidemic (2015-present)
Zika virus usually spread through Aedes mosquitoes and can also be transmitted sexually among humans. The virus is usually not harmful for adults or children but it attacks the infants who are still in womb and may cause many birth defects. The virus infected mosquitoes can flourish in warm, humid climates and hence it was originated in South America and Central America.
21. Coronavirus – Covid-19
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus.The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing. You can protect yourself by washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and avoiding close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell.
Coronavirus disease spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze. It also spreads when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
The origin of this disease is from Wuhan, China. Coronavirus Killed thousands of people and it infected to millions of people in the world. Most affected countries from this virus is US & Italy.