Top 10 Most Devastating Epidemics in History

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Epidemics and pandemics have occurred many times in human history, but it’s one thing to read about it on Wikipedia and quite another to experience it. Since December 2019, the world has been divided into before and after COVID-19. The consequences of the pandemic are not yet fully understood, but at the time of writing this article, 50.4 million people have been infected, and the pandemic has claimed the lives of 1.26 million people. Many businesses are experiencing declines and stagnation, with the economic downturn in developed countries ranging from 5 to 10%, according to preliminary estimates. Today, we will talk about other devastating pandemics in the history of humanity.

1 Bubonic Plague, 75–100 million

The Black Death, or the Black Plague, was a pandemic of the plague that wiped out half of Europe’s population. The peak came in 1346–1353, with new waves continuing until the 19th century.

2 Spanish Flu, 1918, 75 million

The H1N1 influenza pandemic, named Spanish due to its announcement in the Spanish press. The first cases were registered in March 1918 in the U.S., at Camp Funston, Kansas, and by the summer of 1919, new cases were almost no longer being registered. However, in the following years, waves of flu recurred, claiming up to 100 million lives by various estimates.

3 Plague of Justinian, 25–30 million

The first recorded pandemic of the plague, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The plague first erupted in 542 CE in Egypt, in the city of Pelusium, an important trading hub, and spread through almost the entire civilized world.

4 HIV, 30 million

Over 65 million people have been infected with HIV, with 30 million dying from it, and 35 million living with HIV. The epidemic began in Africa south of the Sahara Desert in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Later, the epidemic spread to the United States, Western Europe, and Southern Africa. Today, the virus is spreading fastest in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

5 Antonine Plague, 5 million

A pandemic of an unknown disease in 165–180 AD, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Scientists believe it was smallpox or measles, but there is no conclusive evidence. As a result of the epidemic, up to 2,000 people died per day in Rome, with a mortality rate of about 25%.

6 Cocoliztli, 5–15 million

In 1545, one of the most terrible epidemics in the history of the New World began in Mexico. A mysterious disease called cocoliztli (pestilence) lasted until 1550 and claimed between 5 and 15 million lives. Modern scientists from the UK and Norway suggest that the pathogenic microorganism reached Mexico along with Europeans.

7 Asian Flu, 2 million

The influenza pandemic of 1957–1958 in Asia, which claimed over 1 million lives. The flu was called “Asian” because of its origin – the Chinese province of Guangzhou. Some experts believe that the virus arose from a mutation of the wild duck virus combined with an existing human strain.

8 Third Cholera Pandemic, over 1 million

In total, scientists distinguish seven cholera pandemics. The most massive spread of cholera from India to most countries occurred from 1837 to 1863. A large number of cases and deaths occurred in the Russian Empire, about 700 thousand people. In total, the pandemic claimed over 1 million lives worldwide.

9 Influenza Pandemic of 1889–1890, Over 1 million

The pandemic of 1889–1890 became the first global, not just Eurasian, epidemic. The first outbreaks were recorded in Bukhara in May 1889.
Along the Trans-Caspian Railway, the flu traveled 3,200 km and by October reached European territory, claiming over a million lives.

10 COVID-19 Pandemic 1.25 million

The current pandemic of the coronavirus infection COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has affected the whole world. The outbreak was first recorded in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and what can I say, we have all witnessed it.

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