Infectious microbes have been the nemesis of the human species long before they were even discovered. They have been crippling economies, societies, and even threatening the very existence of the human species as well as other species on earth. It is estimated that modern humans first appeared on earth between 200 000 – 300 000 years ago, ever since there has been countless pandemics that negatively affect us directly and indirectly. Here’s a look at the top 10 deadliest pandemics in modern human history.
What about Covid-19 (The Novel Coronavirus)?
The Novel Coronavirus began appearing in human beings in the beginning of December 2019. It has been named Covid-19, and spreads incredibly quickly throughout the world. Due to its newness – nobody in the world has an immunity to Covid-19, it was declared a pandemic in March 2020 by WHO. The outcome of this pandemic is impossible to predict. At the time of this writing, Covid-19 pandemic continues with infection and death rates going up. COVID-19 is spreading faster compared to most pandemics including HIV and Ebola as new hotpsots emerge. The confirmed death toll reached 4.6 million people. Although actual death toll from COVID-19 is likely to be higher than the number of confirmed deaths. To date there are 219 million confirmed reported cases.
The 10 deadliest pandemics other than Covid-19:
10. Influenza Pandemic (H2N2 virus): 1957-1958
Also known as the “Asian flu,” the outbreak emerged in East Asia in 1957. The H2N2 strain of the influenza virus triggered one of the world’s deadliest pandemics. Estimates of the death toll of the pandemic varies depending on the source. The estimated death toll stands anywhere between 1-4 million people. However, due to advancements in scientific knowledge and technology, the pandemic was quickly halted to prevent further destruction.
9. 165 A.D.: Antonine Plague.
In 165 – 180 A.D. The Roman empire was brought to their knees by the Antoine that claimed the lives of an estimated 5-10 million individuals. The disease was believed to have been contracted by soldiers returning from West Asia to Rome. On their returning journey, everywhere they had stopped the disease was given a chance to spread. Firstly, in Asia Minor, then Greece, and finally in Italy. The disease spread through the densely populated cities in Italy. It wreaked havoc through the country. At the height of the outbreak, a whopping 2000 person died a day. The final nail in the coffin came when the disease claimed the life of the ruling Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
8. Yellow Fever. (1990- Present).
While yellow fever may not be thought of as a pandemic, it certainly is. The virus that caused the disease was only identified in 1900. However, no one knows for sure how long the virus has been plaguing the world. Scientist however, believed that the disease has been around for at least 3000 years. It is estimated that at least 30,000 people die each year from the disease, most of which occurs in Africa. The good news however, there is a vaccine that has been proven very effective in reducing deaths.
7. Malaria: 1880-present.
While Malaria has been around long before 1880, it was in that 1880 the causative agent for the disease was discovered. Ever since it has been an up-hill battle to stop the disease. Malaria is a tropical disease but throughout its history has made its way to almost every country in the world. Malaria has been a tremendous burden to countries across the world. It is estimated that US$ 3 billion was spent in 2019 only to help control and eliminate the disease. Since 2000, there has been a reported 1.5 billion recorded cases of malaria and approximately 7.6 million recorded deaths.
6. Smallpox: Unknown-1980.
The origin of the agent that caused the smallpox disease has remained unknown to this very day, even the first case of smallpox is not known. However, studies conducted on Egyptian mummies found that smallpox has existed for at least 3000 years. Roughly 60 million people in the 18th century died of the disease in Europe alone and approximately 300 million in the 20th century globally. Fortunately, in 1977 the disease was eradicated and WHO declared the world smallpox free in 1980.
5. HIV/AIDS: 1981-Present.
HIV first gained its popularity in the US in the early 1980’s. However, the disease is suspected to be around long before the 1980’s. Since the start of the pandemic, between 55.9 million–110 million people have been infected with the HIV virus. HIV unfortunately has killed over 36 million people since 1981. No known cure has been developed for the disease although there are a few cases of individuals who have been declared HIV free after contracting the disease. However, treatments have been developed which significantly reduces the changes of the disease progressing to AIDS. Scientists have struggled for years to make a vaccine. However, recent breakthroughs seem promising.
4. 1918 Influenza Pandemic. (Spanish Flu)
First reported in Spain, the influenza pandemic quickly spread throughout the world infecting about one-third of the world population. The pandemic gained its name because the Spanish government was the only one who was willing to report on it during world war I. It was reported that other countries avoided talking about the outbreak amounts their troops in an effort to not make them look “weak.” Nevertheless, the virus spread no country. Both young and old fell victim to the disease. One of the unique features of this pandemic is that younger people between the ages of 20-40 where the ones with the highest mortality rate. At the end of the pandemic, it was estimated that around 50-100 million people fell victim to the disease.
3. 430 B.C.: Plague of Athens.
The earliest recorded pandemic in modern human history. During the Peloponnesian war in 430 B.C. The war that took place in ancient Greece between Athens and Sparta which was the two most powerful city-states in ancient Greece at the time. The outbreak believed to had begun in sub-Saharan Africa, swept through Egypt, Libya, across the Mediterranean Sea into Persia and then, through Greece. By definition, a pandemic is a disease outbreak that occurs over a wide geographic range. Around this time the new world had not yet been discovered. Therefore the region affected be the outbreak were large.
Some scholars estimated by the end of the pandemic an astonishing one-third to two-third of the population was wiped out. At that time the population was between 200 000-300 000. The microbe responsible for the outbreak has not been confidently accepted.
2. 541 A.D.: Justinian Plague.
Straight up, one of the worst pandemics in human history. This plague claimed and estimated 50 million lives, approximately half of the world population at the time. The outbreak was named after Justinian I or Justinian the great, who was the Emperor of Byzantine. Byzantine was the continuation of the Roman Empire which resided in the capital of Constantinople. The disease was picked up in the northern and eastern shores of the Nile River in Egypt. Through commercial movement, the disease spread like wildfire through Asia, North Africa, Arabia, and eventually Europe. The outbreak lasted approximately 4 months in Constantinople, but an astonishing 200 years thought different regions.
1. The Black Death: 1346-1353.
One of the most iconic deadliest pandemics in the history of humans, The Black Death or Bubonic plague. The Black Death can be considered a continuation of the Justinian plague. Since it is believed that the microbe responsible for the Justinian plague is the very same one that was responsible for The Black Death. The disease possibly started in Asia, and eventually make its way through every crevasse and corner in Europe. The plague caused catastrophic lost of human lives. While there is no single agreement to the number of lives lost, estimates range from 75 million all the way up to 200 million deaths.