The Deadliest Pandemics In Human History

The number of confirmed cases of the Wuhan Coronavirus in China has surpassed that of the 2003 SARS outbreak, CNN reports. According to CNN, 5,975 cases were confirmed in mainland China alone. Apart from this, there are already 132 fatalities as of January 29, 2020.

Epidemics have been a huge threat to humans for quite some time now, wiping out large numbers of people in the process.

Which ones are the deadliest?

The pandemics that claimed the most lives

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the following pandemics have claimed the most number of lives throughout human history.

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Let’s look at each of these pandemics one by one.

5. The Antonine Plague (165 – 180 C.E. ) 

The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome; engraving by Levasseur after Jules-Elie Delaunay
The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome; engraving by Levasseur after Jules-Elie Delaunay

The Antonine Plague was suspected to be a form of smallpox, according to History. The outbreak happened during the rule of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus —  to whom the name of the plague was based from — and his co-regent Lucius Verus.

According to RWJF, Around 5 million people died during this plague which begun in the Mesopotamian city of Seleucia and spread throughout Rome when soldiers who sieged the former returned home.

4. The Plague of Justinian (541 – 544 C.E.)

Saint Sebastian pleads with Jesus for the life of a gravedigger afflicted by plague during the Plague of Justinian. (Josse Lieferinxe, c. 1497–1499)
Saint Sebastian pleads with Jesus for the life of a gravedigger afflicted by plague during the Plague of Justinian. (Josse Lieferinxe, c. 1497–1499)

The Plague of Justinian happened during the reign of Justinian 1 of the Byzantine Empire. It begun wreaking havoc in Africa and spread to the surrounding regions of Egypt, Alexandria, Gaza, Jerusalem, and Antioch.

This is the first recorded instance that an outbreak of the bubonic plague attained a pandemic-level. Within the span of the succeeding two centuries, recurrences of the bubonic plague killed more people in the process.

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3. HIV/AIDS (1981 – present)

While believed to have originated from West Africa in the 1920s, the HIV/AIDS pandemic began around 1981. In 2011, a total of 25 million people died due to the pandemic. The numbers are still rising given that there remains to be no cure for the virus.

2. 1918 Spanish Flu (1918 – 1919)

Image result for spanish flu

The Spanish Flu didn’t originate from Spain, in spite of being named as such. However, King Alfonso XIII did succumb to this disease which left the impression that the outbreak began somewhere in the Iberian peninsula.

This pandemic is the first recorded appearance of the H1N1 virus which also recurred back in 2009. While the pandemic burned out quickly, only lasting around a year, the Spanish flu still manage to kill approximately 50 million people.

1. The Black Death (1347-1351)

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The most destructive pandemic of them all is The Black Death, an outbreak so notorious that a quick mention of “The Plague” will inevitably be linked to this particular event. The disease involved in The Black Death is also the bubonic plague.

Throughout the outbreak, conservative estimates calculate the number of deaths to about 75 million. However, some estimates compute it to be as high as 200 million.

Now that we are in a highly interconnected and developed world, some might be led to think that we are already safe from epidemics like these. However, the guarantee of our safety is only as high as our preparedness. Even then, this guarantee may not be elevated as much as we would want. With this, we need to make sure that we stay well-informed and vigilant.

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