The Deadliest Pandemics in History

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAs of this writing, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed 7,100 lives around the globe (80 of those have been in the U.S.). There is an estimated 181,000 people who have contracted the virus (4,300 of those are Americans). Unfortunately, COVID-19 is just getting started. As many experts have stated, it is going to get worse before it gets better. So that invites the question, how does COVID-19 stack up against some of the deadliest pandemics in human history?

Before we get to that, let’s clarify the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. An epidemic is the rapid spread of a disease across a specific region or regions. Once that disease spreads from country to country around the globe, it is classified as a pandemic. Thus, all pandemics begin as epidemics; however — and fortunately — not all epidemics become pandemics. In general, pandemics result in more fatalities than epidemics. One notable exception is the Cocoliztli epidemic (also known as “The Great Pestilence”) that occurred in 1545 resulting in 12-15 million deaths in Mexico. The native Aztecs succumbed to the lethal disease brought by the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernan Cortes. The Aztecs were particularly vulnerable due to a variety of factors: weakened immunity, exacerbated by years of disease after a long drought, on top of a deadly outbreak of smallpox in 1520, also introduced by the Spanish, that resulted in more than 8 million deaths. 

When you review the list of the deadliest pandemics in human history, you realize that the mortality rate of the COVID-19 is relatively low so far — but that can change as quickly as a virus can mutate. Here are the deadliest pandemics in human history, in descending order:

The Black Death (Bubonic Plague; in the Middle Ages it was referred to as “The Great Mortality”) pandemic: 1346-1353
Origin: Central or East Asia
Death toll: 75-200 million

Plague of Justinian: 541-542
Origin: Byzantine Empire (the capital was Constantinople, what is now Istanbul, Turkey) and port cities around the Mediterranean Sea
Death toll: 25-50 million

HIV/AIDS pandemic: 2005-2012
Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Death toll: 36 million

Antonine Plague (also known as the Plague of Galen): 165-180
Origin: Aisa Minor
Death Toll: 5 million

Asian flu pandemic: 1956-58
Origin: Guizhou, China
Death toll: 2 million

Russian or Asiatic flu pandemic: 1889-1890
Origin: Bukhara, Turkestan (what is now Uzbekistan)
Death toll: 1 million

Hong Kong flu pandemic: 1968
Origin: Hong Kong
Death toll: 1 million

Third cholera pandemic: 1852-1860
Origin: India
Death toll: 1 million

Sixth cholera pandemic: 1910-11
Origin: India
Death toll: 800,000

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Euphemisms for Death
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?
Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further reading: The Black Death, The Great Mortality of 1348-1350 by John Aberth
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla
https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever
https://www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/coronavirus-updates-cases-fears-deaths-us-latest-2020-03-16/

https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/

 


Comments are disabled.

%d bloggers like this: