Please read .......
20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history
An influenza ward at a U.S. Army Camp Hospital in France during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
(Image: © Shutterstock)
Throughout the course of history, disease outbreaks have ravaged
humanity, sometimes changing the course of history and, at times,
signaling the end of entire civilizations. Here are 20 of the worst
epidemics and pandemics, dating from prehistoric to modern times.
Related: Pandemic: Legacy board game 38% off this Black Friday
1. Prehistoric epidemic: Circa 3000 B.C.The discovery of a 5,000-year-old house in China filled with skeletons is evidence of a deadly epidemic. (Image credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology)
About 5,000 years ago, an epidemic wiped out a prehistoric village
in China. The bodies of the dead were stuffed inside a house that was
later burned down. No age group was spared, as the skeletons of
juveniles, young adults and middle-age people were found inside the
house. The archaeological site is now called "Hamin Mangha" and is one
of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in northeastern China.
Archaeological and anthropological study indicates that the epidemic
happened quickly enough that there was no time for proper burials, and
the site was not inhabited again.
the discovery of Hamin Mangha, another prehistoric mass burial that
dates to roughly the same time period was found at a site called
Miaozigou, in northeastern China. Together, these discoveries suggest
that an epidemic ravaged the entire region.
2. Plague of Athens: 430 B.C.Remains
of the Parthenon, one of the buildings on the acropolis of Athens. The
city experienced a five year pandemic around 430 B.C. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
430 B.C., not long after a war between Athens and Sparta began, an
epidemic ravaged the people of Athens and lasted for five years. Some
estimates put the death toll as high as 100,000 people. The Greek
historian Thucydides (460-400 B.C.) wrote that "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 fetid breath"
(translation by Richard Crawley from the book "The History of the
Peloponnesian War," London Dent, 1914).
What exactly this epidemic was has long been a source of debate among scientists; a number of diseases have been put forward as possibilities, including typhoid fever and Ebola.
Many scholars believe that overcrowding caused by the war exacerbated
the epidemic. Sparta's army was stronger, forcing the Athenians to take
refuge behind a series of fortifications called the "long walls" that
protected their city. Despite the epidemic, the war continued on, not
ending until 404 B.C., when Athens was forced to capitulate to Sparta.
3. Antonine Plague: A.D. 165-180Roman soldiers likely brought smallpox home with them, giving rise to the Antonine Plague. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
soldiers returned to the Roman Empire from campaigning, they brought
back more than the spoils of victory. The Antonine Plague, which may
have been smallpox, laid waste to the army and may have killed over 5
million people in the Roman empire, wrote April Pudsey, a senior
lecturer in Roman History at Manchester Metropolitan University, in a
paper published in the book "Disability in Antiquity," Routledge,
Related: Save 50% on All About History magazine this Black Friday
historians believe that the epidemic was first brought into the Roman
Empire by soldiers returning home after a war against Parthia. The
epidemic contributed to the end of the Pax Romana (the Roman Peace), a
period from 27 B.C. to A.D. 180, when Rome was at the height of its
power. After A.D. 180, instability grew throughout the Roman Empire, as
it experienced more civil wars and invasions by "barbarian" groups. Christianity became increasingly popular in the time after the plague occurred.
4. Plague of Cyprian: A.D. 250-271The remains found where a bonfire incinerated many of the victims of an ancient epidemic in the city of Thebes in Egypt. (Image credit: N.Cijan/Associazione Culturale per lo Studio dell'Egitto e del Sudan ONLUS)
Named after St. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who described the epidemic as signaling the end of the world,
the Plague of Cyprian is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in
Rome alone. In 2014, archaeologists in Luxor found what appears to be a
mass burial site of plague victims. Their bodies were covered with a
thick layer of lime (historically used as a disinfectant).
Archaeologists found three kilns used to manufacture lime and the
remains of plague victims burned in a giant bonfire.
aren't sure what disease caused the epidemic. "The bowels, relaxed into a
constant flux, discharge the bodily strength [and] a fire originated in
the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth),"
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
5. Plague of Justinian: A.D. 541-542A mosaic of Emperor Justinian and his supporters. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
Byzantine Empire was ravaged by the bubonic plague, which marked the
start of its decline. The plague reoccurred periodically afterward. Some
estimates suggest that up to 10% of the world's population died.
The plague is named after the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (reigned A.D. 527-565). Under his reign, the Byzantine Empire
reached its greatest extent, controlling territory that stretched from
the Middle East to Western Europe. Justinian constructed a great
cathedral known as Hagia Sophia
("Holy Wisdom") in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the empire's
capital. Justinian also got sick with the plague and survived; however,
his empire gradually lost territory in the time after the plague
6. The Black Death: 1346-1353Illustration from Liber chronicarum, 1. CCLXIIII; Skeletons are rising from the dead for the dance of death. (Image credit: Anton Koberger, 1493/Public domain)
The Black Death
traveled from Asia to Europe, leaving devastation in its wake. Some
estimates suggest that it wiped out over half of Europe's population. It
was caused by a strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis that is likely extinct today and was spread by fleas on infected rodents. The bodies of victims were buried in mass graves.
plague changed the course of Europe's history. With so many dead, labor
became harder to find, bringing about better pay for workers and the
end of Europe's system of serfdom. Studies
suggest that surviving workers had better access to meat and
higher-quality bread. The lack of cheap labor may also have contributed
to technological innovation.
7. Cocoliztli epidemic: 1545-1548 Aztec Ruins National Monument. (Image credit: USGS)
that caused the cocoliztli epidemic was a form of viral hemorrhagic
fever that killed 15 million inhabitants of Mexico and Central America.
Among a population already weakened by extreme drought, the disease
proved to be utterly catastrophic. "Cocoliztli" is the Aztec word for
A recent study that examined DNA from the skeletons of victims found that they were infected with a subspecies of Salmonella known as S. paratyphi C,
which causes enteric fever, a category of fever that includes typhoid.
Enteric fever can cause high fever, dehydration and gastrointestinal
problems and is still a major health threat today.
8. American Plagues: 16th centuryPainting
by O. Graeff (1892) of Hernán Cortéz and his troops. The Spanish
conqueror was able to capture Aztec cities left devastated by smallpox.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)
American Plagues are a cluster of Eurasian diseases brought to the
Americas by European explorers. These illnesses, including smallpox,
contributed to the collapse of the Inca and Aztec civilizations. Some
estimates suggest that 90% of the indigenous population in the Western
Hemisphere was killed off.
The diseases helped a Spanish force led by Hernán Cortés conquer the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán
in 1519 and another Spanish force led by Francisco Pizarro conquer the
Incas in 1532. The Spanish took over the territories of both empires. In
both cases, the Aztec and Incan
armies had been ravaged by disease and were unable to withstand the
Spanish forces. When citizens of Britain, France, Portugal and the
Netherlands began exploring, conquering and settling the Western
Hemisphere, they were also helped by the fact that disease had vastly
reduced the size of any indigenous groups that opposed them.
9. Great Plague of London: 1665-1666A
model re-enactment of the 1666 Great Fire of London. The fire occured
right after the city suffered through a devastating plague. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
Black Death's last major outbreak in Great Britain caused a mass exodus
from London, led by King Charles II. The plague started in April 1665
and spread rapidly through the hot summer months. Fleas from
plague-infected rodents were one of the main causes of transmission. By
the time the plague ended, about 100,000 people, including 15% of the
population of London, had died. But this was not the end of that city's
suffering. On Sept. 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London started, lasting
for four days and burning down a large portion of the city.
10. Great Plague of Marseille: 1720-1723Present
day view of Saint Jean Castle and Cathedral de la Major and the Vieux
port in Marseille, France. Up to 30% of the population of Marseille died
as a result of a three-year plague epidemic in the 1720s. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
records say that the Great Plague of Marseille started when a ship
called Grand-Saint-Antoine docked in Marseille, France, carrying a cargo
of goods from the eastern Mediterranean. Although the ship was
quarantined, plague still got into the city, likely through fleas on
Plague spread quickly, and over the next
three years, as many as 100,000 people may have died in Marseille and
surrounding areas. It's estimated that up to 30% of the population of
Marseille may have perished.
11. Russian plague: 1770-1772Portrait
of Catherine II by Vigilius Erichsen (ca. 1757-1772). Even Catherine
the Great couldn't bring Russia back from the devastation caused by the
1770 plague. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
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
The empress of Russia, Catherine II (also called Catherine the Great),
was so desperate to contain the plague and restore public order that
she issued a hasty decree ordering that all factories be moved from
Moscow. By the time the plague ended, as many as 100,000 people may have
died. Even after the plague ended, Catherine struggled to restore
order. In 1773, Yemelyan Pugachev, a man who claimed to be Peter III
(Catherine's executed husband), led an insurrection that resulted in the
deaths of thousands more.
12. Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic: 1793Painting
of George Washington's second inauguration at Congress Hall in
Philadelphia, March 4, 1793. An epidemic of yellow fever hit
Philadelphia hard in the first half of 1793. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
yellow fever seized Philadelphia, the United States' capital at the
time, officials wrongly believed that slaves were immune. As a result,
abolitionists called for people of African origin to be recruited to
nurse the sick.
The disease is carried and transmitted by
mosquitoes, which experienced a population boom during the particularly
hot and humid summer weather in Philadelphia that year. It wasn't until
winter arrived — and the mosquitoes died out — that the epidemic finally
stopped. By then, more than 5,000 people had died.
13. Flu pandemic: 1889-1890Wood
engraving showing nurses attending to patients in Paris during the
1889-90 flu pandemic. The pandemic killed an estimated 1 million people.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)
the modern industrial age, new transport links made it easier for
influenza viruses to wreak havoc. In just a few months, the disease
spanned the globe, killing 1 million people. It took just five weeks for
the epidemic to reach peak mortality.
The earliest cases were
reported in Russia. The virus spread rapidly throughout St. Petersburg
before it quickly made its way throughout Europe and the rest of the
world, despite the fact that air travel didn't exist yet.
14. American polio epidemic: 1916Franklin
D. Roosevelt memorial in Washington, D.C. President Roosevelt was
diagnosed with polio in 1921, at the age of 39. Polio killed thousands
until the development of the Salk vaccine in 1954. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
polio epidemic that started in New York City caused 27,000 cases and
6,000 deaths in the United States. The disease mainly affects children
and sometimes leaves survivors with permanent disabilities.
Polio epidemics occurred sporadically
in the United States until the Salk vaccine was developed in 1954. As
the vaccine became widely available, cases in the United States
declined. The last polio case in the United States was reported in 1979.
Worldwide vaccination efforts have greatly reduced the disease,
although it is not yet completely eradicated.
15. Spanish Flu: 1918-1920 Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas. (Image credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine)
An estimated 500 million people from the South Seas to the North Pole fell victim to Spanish Flu.
One-fifth of those died, with some indigenous communities pushed to the
brink of extinction. The flu's spread and lethality was enhanced by the
cramped conditions of soldiers and poor wartime nutrition that many
people were experiencing during World War I.
Despite the name
Spanish Flu, the disease likely did not start in Spain. Spain was a
neutral nation during the war and did not enforce strict censorship of
its press, which could therefore freely publish early accounts of the
illness. As a result, people falsely believed the illness was specific
to Spain, and the name Spanish Flu stuck.
16. Asian Flu: 1957-1958 Chickens being tested for the avian flu. An outbreak of the avian flu killed 1 million people in the late 1950s. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
Asian Flu pandemic was another global showing for influenza. With its
roots in China, the disease claimed more than 1 million lives. The virus
that caused the pandemic was a blend of avian flu viruses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
notes that the disease spread rapidly and was reported in Singapore in
February 1957, Hong Kong in April 1957, and the coastal cities of the
United States in the summer of 1957. The total death toll was more than
1.1 million worldwide, with 116,000 deaths occurring in the United
17. AIDS pandemic and epidemic: 1981-present dayAIDS became a global pandemic in the 1980s and continues as an epidemic in certain parts of the world.
(Image credit: Mario Suriani/Associated Press, via the New York Historical Society)
has claimed an estimated 35 million lives since it was first
identified. HIV, which is the virus that causes AIDS, likely developed
from a chimpanzee virus that transferred to humans in West Africa in the
1920s. The virus made its way around the world, and AIDS was a pandemic
by the late 20th century. Now, about 64% of the estimated 40 million
living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) live in sub-Saharan Africa.
decades, the disease had no known cure, but medication developed in the
1990s now allows people with the disease to experience a normal life
span with regular treatment. Even more encouraging, two people have been
cured of HIV as of early 2020.
18. H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic: 2009-2010A
nurse walking by a triage tent set up outside of the emergency room at
Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, California on April 30, 2009.
The hospital was preparing for a potential flood of patients worried
they might have swine flu. (Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
2009 swine flu pandemic was caused by a new strain of H1N1 that
originated in Mexico in the spring of 2009 before spreading to the rest
of the world. In one year, the virus infected as many as 1.4 billion
people across the globe and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people,
according to the CDC.
2009 flu pandemic primarily affected children and young adults, and 80%
of the deaths were in people younger than 65, the CDC reported. That
was unusual, considering that most strains of flu viruses, including
those that cause seasonal flu, cause the highest percentage of deaths in
people ages 65 and older. But in the case of the swine flu, older
people seemed to have already built up enough immunity to the group of
viruses that H1N1 belongs to, so weren't affected as much. A vaccine for
the H1N1 virus that caused the swine flu is now included in the annual
Related: How does the COVID-19 pandemic compare to the last pandemic?
19. West African Ebola epidemic: 2014-2016 Health care workers put on protective gear before entering an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. (Image credit: CDC/Sally Ezra/Athalia Christie (Public Domain))
ravaged West Africa between 2014 and 2016, with 28,600 reported cases
and 11,325 deaths. The first case to be reported was in Guinea in
December 2013, then the disease quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra
Leone. The bulk of the cases and deaths occurred in those three
countries. A smaller number of cases occurred in Nigeria, Mali, Senegal,
the United States and Europe, the Centers for Disease Control and
There is no cure
for Ebola, although efforts at finding a vaccine are ongoing. The first
known cases of Ebola occurred in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of
Congo in 1976, and the virus may have originated in bats.
20. Zika Virus epidemic: 2015-present day A worker sprays pesticide to kill mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. Zika is most prevalent in the tropics. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
impact of the recent Zika epidemic in South America and Central America
won't be known for several years. In the meantime, scientists face a
race against time to bring the virus under control. The Zika virus is
usually spread through mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, although it can also be sexually transmitted in humans.
is usually not harmful to adults or children, it can attack infants who
are still in the womb and cause birth defects. The type of mosquitoes
that carry Zika flourish best in warm, humid climates, making South
America, Central America and parts of the southern United States prime
areas for the virus to flourish.