Top Worst Pandemics Throughout History

Throughout history, plagues and epidemics have afflicted humanity, frequently altering the course of history. Disease epidemics have plagued mankind throughout history, affecting the course of history and, at times, signalling the death of entire civilizations. Here are the top ten deadliest pandemics in history, from ancient to current times.

Worst Pandemics Throughout History
Worst Pandemics Throughout History ( Image Credit: Flickr )

1. Prehistoric epidemic: Circa 3000 B.C.

A ancient town in China was wiped out by an illness some 5,000 years ago. The bodies of the deceased were put inside a burning home. Skeletons of children, young adults, and middle-aged persons were discovered within the residence, indicating that no age range was spared. The archaeological site is currently known as “Hamin Mangha” and is one of the most well-preserved ancient sites in northeastern China. Archaeological and anthropological research shows that the pandemic occurred swiftly enough that adequate burials were not possible, and the site was never occupied again.

Prior to the discovery of Hamin Mangha, another prehistoric mass burial from the same time period was discovered in Miaozigou in northeastern China. These findings show that a pandemic decimated the whole region.

2. Plague of Athens: 430 B.C.

An epidemic decimated the population of Athens around 430 B.C., not long after a conflict between Athens and Sparta began, and lasted for five years. According to some estimations, the death toll might be as high as 100,000 people. Thucydides (460-400 B.C.) described how “people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and foetid breath” (translation by Richard Crawley from the book “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” London Dent, 1914).

Scientists have long debated what exactly caused this outbreak; several illnesses, including typhoid fever and Ebola, have been proposed as candidates. Many academics argue that the war’s overpopulation aggravated the outbreak. Sparta’s force proved superior, forcing the Athenians to flee behind a set of fortifications known as the “long walls” that secured their city. Despite the plague, the conflict raged on until 404 B.C., when Athens was compelled to surrender to Sparta.

3. Antonine Plague: A.D. 165-18

When troops returned from campaigning to the Roman Empire, they brought back more than just the prizes of victory. The Antonine Plague, which could have been smallpox, decimated the Roman army and killed over 5 million people, according to April Pudsey, a senior lecturer in Roman History at Manchester Metropolitan University, in a paper published in the book “Disability in Antiquity,” Routledge, 2017.

Many historians think that troops coming home from a war against Parthia carried the disease into the Roman Empire for the first time. The pandemic led to the end of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), which lasted from 27 B.C. to A.D. 180, when Rome was at its most powerful. After A.D. 180, the Roman Empire became increasingly unstable, with more civil conflicts and invasions by “barbarian” tribes. Following the outbreak of the plague, Christianity grew in popularity.

4. Plague of Cyprian: A.D. 250-271

The Plague of Cyprian, named after St. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who regarded the pandemic as heralding the end of the world, is estimated to have killed 5,000 people each day in Rome alone. Archaeologists in Luxor discovered what looks to be a mass burial site for plague victims in 2014. Their bodies were plastered in a thick coating of lime (a disinfection in the past). Archaeologists discovered three lime kilns and the remains of plague victims incinerated in a massive pyre.

The reason of the pandemic is unknown, according to experts. “The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength,” Cyprian wrote in Latin in a work called “De mortalitate” (translation by Philip Schaff from the book “Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885).

5. Plague of Justinian: A.D. 541-542

The bubonic plague devastated the Byzantine Empire, ushering in its collapse. The epidemic returned on a regular basis after that. According to some estimations, up to 10% of the world’s population died.

The epidemic is named after Justinian, the Byzantine Emperor who ruled from 527 to 565. The Byzantine Empire expanded to its greatest extent under his rule, commanding territory stretching from the Middle East to Western Europe. Justinian built the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) church in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the empire’s capital. Justinian became ill with the plague and survived; nonetheless, his empire rapidly lost territory in the aftermath of the pandemic.

6. The Black Death: 1346-1353

The Black Death spread from Asia to Europe, wreaking havoc in its wake. According to some estimations, it wiped away more than half of Europe’s population. It was caused by an extinct strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which was carried by fleas on diseased rats. Victims’ remains were buried in mass graves.

The pandemic altered the path of history in Europe. With so many dead, labour became scarce, resulting in higher wages for labourers and the end of Europe’s serfdom system.According to studies, surviving workers had better access to meat and higher-quality bread. The scarcity of inexpensive labour may have also aided technical advancement.

7. Cocoliztli epidemic: 1545-1548 

The cocoliztli illness was a kind of viral hemorrhagic fever that killed 15 million people in Mexico and Central America. The illness proved disastrous in a population already debilitated by intense drought. “Cocoliztli” is an Aztec word that means “pest.”

A recent research that studied DNA from the skeletons of victims discovered that they were infected with S. paratyphi C, a subspecies of Salmonella that causes enteric fever, which includes typhoid. Enteric fever is still a serious health issue today, causing high temperature, dehydration, and gastrointestinal difficulties.

8. American Plagues: 16th century

The American Plagues are a collection of Eurasian illnesses that European travellers introduced to the Americas. These diseases, especially smallpox, aided in the demise of the Inca and Aztec empires. According to some estimations, 90% of the indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere was wiped off.

The illnesses aided a Spanish expedition headed by Hernán Cortés in conquering Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, in 1519, and another Spanish force commanded by Francisco Pizarro in conquering the Incas in 1532. The Spanish conquered both empires’ domains. The Aztec and Incan armies had been devastated by sickness in both cases and were unable to oppose the Spanish army. When inhabitants of the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands began exploring, conquering, and colonising the Western Hemisphere, they were aided by the fact that illness had greatly reduced the size of any indigenous populations that stood in their way.

Keep Reading: Top Worst Epidemics Throughout History

9. Great Plague of London: 1665-1666

The last major epidemic of the Black Death in Great Britain resulted in a large flight from London, headed by King Charles II. The disease began in April 1665 and spread quickly throughout the hot summer months. Fleas from plague-infected rats were a major source of transmission. By the time the plague was over, around 100,000 people had perished, including 15% of London’s population. But it was not the end of the city’s misery. The Great Fire of London began on September 2, 1666, and lasted four days, destroying most of the city.

10. Great Plague of Marseille: 1720-1723

According to historical accounts, the Great Plague of Marseille began when a ship dubbed the Grand-Saint-Antoine landed at Marseille, France, with a load of commodities from the eastern Mediterranean. Despite the quarantine, plague entered the city, most likely by fleas on plague-infected rats.

The plague spread swiftly, and as many as 100,000 people may have perished in Marseille and nearby regions over the following three years. It is believed that up to 30% of Marseille’s inhabitants perished.

11. Russian plague: 1770-1772

In plague-ravaged Moscow, the terror of quarantined citizens erupted into violence. Riots spread through the city and culminated in the murder of Archbishop Ambrosius, who was encouraging crowds not to gather for worship.

Catherine II (commonly known as Catherine the Great), the empress of Russia, was so frantic to control the epidemic and restore public order that she issued a quick proclamation ordering the relocation of all industries from Moscow. As many as 100,000 individuals may have perished by the time the disease was over. Catherine attempted to restore order even after the epidemic had passed. In 1773, Yemelyan Pugachev, claiming to be Peter III (Catherine’s slain husband), organised an insurgency that killed hundreds more.

12. Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic: 1793

When yellow fever swept across Philadelphia, the United States’ capital at the time, officials mistook slaves for immune. As a result, abolitionists advocated for the recruitment of persons of African descent to care for the ill.

Mosquitoes carry and transmit the illness, and their number exploded during that year’s especially hot and humid summer weather in Philadelphia. It wasn’t until winter arrived, and the mosquitoes died off, that the plague was finally brought to a close. More than 5,000 individuals had perished at that point.

13. Flu pandemic: 1889-1890

New transport linkages make it simpler for influenza viruses to wreak havoc in the modern industrial period. The illness swept the globe in a matter of months, killing one million people. The outbreak reached peak mortality in just five weeks.

The first examples were discovered in Russia. Despite the lack of air travel at the time, the virus spread fast throughout St. Petersburg before quickly spreading throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

14. American polio epidemic: 1916

In the United States, a polio outbreak that began in New York City resulted in 27,000 cases and 6,000 fatalities. The sickness primarily affects youngsters and can leave survivors permanently disabled.

Polio outbreaks occurred in the United States on an irregular basis until the Salk vaccine was produced in 1954. Cases in the United States decreased as the vaccination became more widely available. Polio was eradicated in the United States in 1979. Global vaccine efforts have considerably decreased the disease’s prevalence, but it has not yet been totally eliminated.

15. Spanish Flu: 1918-1920 

The Spanish Flu killed an estimated 500 million individuals from the South Seas to the North Pole. One-fifth of those killed died, and several indigenous populations were driven to extinction. The flu’s spread and lethality were aided by troops’ crowded quarters and poor wartime diet, which many civilians faced during World War I.

Despite the name, the disease did not likely originate in Spain. Spain was a neutral nation throughout the war and did not impose severe control on its press, allowing early stories of the sickness to be openly published. As a result, many mistakenly thought the virus was exclusive to Spain, and the moniker Spanish Flu remained.

16. Asian Flu: 1957-1958 

The Asian Flu pandemic was yet another global outbreak of influenza. The sickness, which had its origins in China, took the lives of almost one million people. The pandemic virus was a combination of avian flu viruses.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease spread quickly and was detected in Singapore in February 1957, Hong Kong in April 1957, and US coastal towns in the summer of 1957. The overall death toll was more over 1.1 million, with 116,000 dead in the United States.

17. AIDS pandemic and epidemic: 1981-present day

Since its discovery, AIDS has claimed an estimated 35 million lives. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, most likely evolved from a chimp virus that spread to humans in West Africa in the 1920s. The virus spread around the world, and by the late twentieth century, AIDS had become a pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for about 64% of the estimated 40 million people living with HIV.

For decades, there was no known cure for the condition, but medicine introduced in the 1990s today allows persons with the disease to live a normal life with regular therapy. Even more hopeful, as of early 2020, two persons have been cured of HIV.

18. H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic: 2009-2010

The 2009 swine flu pandemic was caused by a novel H1N1 strain that emerged in Mexico in the spring of 2009 before spreading around the world. In one year, the virus infected 1.4 billion individuals worldwide and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people. according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, the 2009 flu pandemic mostly afflicted children and young adults, with those under the age of 65 accounting for 80% of deaths. That was remarkable, given that most types of flu viruses, particularly those that cause seasonal flu, kill the most persons aged 65 and older. However, in the instance of the swine flu, older persons appeared to have already developed sufficient protection to the group of viruses that H1N1 belongs to, thus they were less impacted. The H1N1 virus, which caused the swine flu, is now included in the yearly flu vaccination.

19. West African Ebola epidemic: 2014-2016 

Between 2014 and 2016, Ebola devastated West Africa, with 28,600 recorded cases and 11,325 fatalities. The disease was initially identified in Guinea in December 2013, and it soon spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The majority of the illnesses and fatalities occurred in these three nations. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there were fewer instances in Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, the United States, and Europe.

There is no treatment for Ebola, but efforts to develop a vaccine are continuing. Ebola was initially detected in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, and the virus may have originated in bats.

20. Zika Virus epidemic: 2015-present day 

The consequences of the latest Zika outbreak in South and Central America will not be known for several years. Meanwhile, scientists are racing against the clock to put the virus under control. The Zika virus is mostly transmitted by mosquitos of the Aedes genus, but it may also be transferred sexually in people.

While Zika is normally not dangerous to adults or children, it can infect newborns in the womb and cause birth abnormalities. Because the mosquitos that transmit Zika thrive in warm, humid conditions, South America, Central America, and parts of the southern United States are good sites for the virus to thrive.

21. COVID-19 Pandemic 2019

Coronavirus is thought to have originated in Wuhan, China. Since its discovery in late 2019, the virus has spread over Europe, the rest of Asia, North America, and nearly every other area of the planet. It affected about 2 million people and killed hundreds of thousands over the world.

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