Disease, unfortunately, has been around from the time that life has existed on earth, and while it seems to be a part of the cycle of life, medical advances and treatments have made it easier to live with those illnesses. Infectious diseases, by definition, spread from the environment or from one person or animal to another and can infect a large number of people in a community or region. Although many stay localized to a small town or household, there have been some diseases that have spread so far beyond a country’s borders that populations around the world were significantly reduced as it destroyed civilizations. With that being said, humanity managed to endure every time, as seen with the current coronavirus pandemic. Here is a list of some of the worst pandemics that the human race has survived.
1. Spanish Flu
The Spanish Flu of 1918 was the deadliest flu pandemic in history, infecting one-third of the world’s population and killing one-tenth. Sources claim that the disease was first observed in Europe, the United States as well as Asia, but it spread so quickly that it was impossible to track. The illness was said to be different from other influenza pandemics because rather than attacking weaker or immunocompromised individuals, it went after the healthy. Additionally, the lack of treatment worsened the avian-borne flu pandemic which claimed the lives of 50 million people.
2. Third Cholera Pandemic
The Third Cholera Pandemic was the worst of the seven cholera outbreaks that occurred over the course of history. From 1852, the illness began in India, like the first two, slowly spreading through Asia and then Europe, Africa, and North America. British doctor John Snow identified the contaminated water as the source of transmission, but it didn’t save the 23,000 who died in that year in Great Britain alone.
3. Black Death
The Black Death, also known as the Great Bubonic Plague, occurred in the mid-1300s and was the worst pandemic of the century. The virus started in China in the 1330s and because it was one of the world’s largest trading hubs, the virus quickly spread to other countries. Less than 20 years later, it arrived in Europe where it was mostly spread through infected fleas and rat bites. Transmission then switched to human-to-human, further decimating the population. The infected experienced red spots on the skin that turned black, giving the disease its name. In total, over 20 million people lost their lives.
4. HIV/AIDS Pandemic (1981 – 2012)
HIV/AIDS was first identified in 1981 as a virus that destroys a person’s immune system, leaving it unable to defend against disease. Believed to have been developed from African chimpanzees in the 1920s, the virus slowly spread until it was identified and by the end of the 20th century, it had become a pandemic. People infected initially experience headaches, fever and enlarged lymph nodes, after which symptoms subsided, making them extremely infectious. Today, the disease has no FDA-approved cure, but medication allows people with HIV to live normal lives. Unfortunately, the virus has claimed over 35 million lives since it was discovered.
5. Antonine Plague (156 AD)
The Antonine Plague, also known as the Plague of Galen, was a pandemic that ravaged parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Although the exact disease was never identified, many believe that it was either Measles or Smallpox due to the skin eruptions, fever and vomiting. It was thought that it began with the Huns who spread it to the Germans who then spread it to Romans troops. Those troops returned home and unknowingly spread it throughout the empire. The plague killed approximately 5 million people including Emperor Marcus Aurelius, allegedly.
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