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: Spanish flu: The deadliest pandemic in history.

About 5, 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.

epidemics in history

Before 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. Around B.

Some estimates put the death toll as high aspeople. The Greek historian Thucydides B. 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.

List of epidemics

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 B. When 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: Read a free issue of All About History magazine.

Many historians believe that the epidemic was first brought into the Roman Empire by soldiers returning home after a war against Parthia. After A. Christianity became increasingly popular in the time after the plague occurred. Named after St. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage a city in Tunisia who described the epidemic as signaling the end of the worldthe Plague of Cyprian is estimated to have killed 5, people a day in Rome alone.

How 5 of History's Worst Pandemics Finally Ended

Inarchaeologists 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. Experts aren't sure what disease caused the epidemic. The Byzantine Empire was ravaged by the bubonic plague, which marked the start of its decline. The plague reoccurred periodically afterward.

The plague is named after the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reigned A. 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 Istanbulthe empire's capital.

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.As human civilizations flourished, so did infectious disease. Large numbers of people living in close proximity to each other and to animals, often with poor sanitation and nutrition, provided fertile breeding grounds for disease.

And new overseas trading routes spread the novel infections far and wide, creating the first global pandemics. Yersinia pestis, formerly pasteurella pestis, was the bacteria responsible for the plague.

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Here it's seen under optical microscopy X Three of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history were caused by a single bacterium, Yersinia pestisa fatal infection otherwise known as the plague.

It was carried over the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt, a recently conquered land paying tribute to Emperor Justinian in grain. Plague-ridden fleas hitched a ride on the black rats that snacked on the grain. A couple suffering from the blisters of the Black Death, the bubonic plague that swept through Europe in the Middle Ages.

From the Swiss manuscript the Toggenburg Bible, The plague never really went away, and when it returned years later, it killed with reckless abandon. The Black Deathwhich hit Europe inclaimed an astonishing million lives in just four years.

As for how to stop the disease, people still had no scientific understanding of contagion, says Mockaitis, but they knew that it had something to do with proximity. At first, sailors were held on their ships for 30 days, which became known in Venetian law as a trentino. As time went on, the Venetians increased the forced isolation to 40 days or a quarantinothe origin of the word quarantine and the start of its practice in the Western world. Scenes in the streets of London during the Great Plague of London never really caught a break after the Black Death.

The plague resurfaced roughly every 10 years from to —40 outbreaks in just over years. And with each new plague epidemic, 20 percent of the men, women and children living in the British capital were killed. By the early s, England imposed the first laws to separate and isolate the sick.

Homes stricken by plague were marked with a bale of hay strung to a pole outside. If you had infected family members, you had to carry a white pole when you went out in public. Cats and dogs were believed to carry the disease, so there was a wholesale massacre of hundreds of thousands of animals.As humans have spread across the world, so have infectious diseases. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as COVID has.

Disease and illnesses have plagued humanity since the earliest days, our mortal flaw. However, it was not until the marked shift to agrarian communities that the scale and spread of these diseases increased dramatically. Widespread trade created new opportunities for human and animal interactions that sped up such epidemics.

Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others first appeared during these early years. The more civilized humans became — with larger cities, more exotic trade routes, and increased contact with different populations of people, animals, and ecosystems — the more likely pandemics would occur. Note: Many of the death toll numbers listed above are best estimates based on available research.

Some, such as the Plague of Justinian and Swine Fluare subject to debate based on new evidence. Healthcare improvements and understanding the factors that incubate pandemics have been powerful tools in mitigating their impact. In many ancient societies, people believed that spirits and gods inflicted disease and destruction upon those that deserved their wrath. This unscientific perception often led to disastrous responses that resulted in the deaths of thousands, if not millions.

The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century, in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics.

One of the first instances of relying on geography and statistical analysis was in midth century London, during a cholera outbreak.

InDr. John Snow came to the conclusion that cholera was spreading via tainted water and decided to display neighborhood mortality data directly on a map. This method revealed a cluster of cases around a specific pump from which people were drawing their water from. While the interactions created through trade and urban life play a pivotal role, it is also the virulent nature of particular diseases that indicate the trajectory of a pandemic.

Measles tops the list, being the most contagious with a R0 range of This means a single person can infect, on average, 12 to 18 people in an unvaccinated population. While measles may be the most virulent, vaccination efforts and herd immunity can curb its spread. The more people are immune to a disease, the less likely it is to proliferate, making vaccinations critical to prevent the resurgence of known and treatable diseases.

epidemics in history

We arrive at where we began, with rising global connections and interactions as a driving force behind pandemics.

Urbanization in the developing world is bringing more and more rural residents into denser neighborhoods, while population increases are putting greater pressure on the environment. At the same time, passenger air traffic nearly doubled in the past decade. These macro trends are having a profound impact on the spread of infectious disease.

As organizations and governments around the world ask for citizens to practice social distancing to help reduce the rate of infection, the digital world is allowing people to maintain connections and commerce like never before. This post and infographic are meant to provide historical context, and we will continue to update it as time goes on to maintain its accuracy. Get your mind blown on a daily basis:.

With misinformation all over the web, how do you discern fake news from real?Throughout history, epidemics have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives lost. The reason epidemics have claimed so many lives is that they are usually highly communicable diseases which reach large populations in very short times. The number of cases of the disease quickly exceeds what would normally be expected within the population.

These diseases could be viral, bacterial, or other health events like obesity. Some epidemics have been so great that they left a permanent impact on the population at the time. Some of the worst of these can be found below. The Plague of Justinian hit humanity between and AD.

It was responsible for the highest number of lives lost in an epidemic in history. Estimates believe million people died during this time, which was half the world population. This plague was able to spread so quickly because it was carried on the backs of rodents, whose fleas were infected with the bacteria.

These rats traveled all over the world on trading ships and helped spread the infection from China to Northern Africa and all over the Mediterranean. The Plague of Justinian is attributed with having weakened the Byzantine Empire in several ways. The military lost power and was no longer able to fend off intruders. Farmers became sick, and agricultural production declined.

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With a smaller agricultural base, income taxes fell. Thousands of people died daily at the height of the destructive plague. The Black Plague claimed the lives of 50 million people from to The outbreak began in Asia and, once again, was carried throughout the world by rats covered with infected fleas. After its arrival in Europe, it spread death and destruction. Symptoms of this disease began with swelling of the lymph nodes, either in the groin, armpit, or neck. The virus was spread via blood and airborne particles.

This epidemic changed the course of European history. The lack of understanding of the origin of the disease led the Christian population to blame the Jewish community of poisoning the water wells; as a result of this accusation, thousands of Jews were killed.

Others believed it was punishment dealt from Heaven for leading sinful lives. The world saw agricultural shortages as in the Plague of Justinian, and malnutrition and hunger were rampant.

After the ending of the Black Death, the decline in population resulted in increased wages and cheap land. The available area was used for animal husbandry and meat consumption throughout the region increased.

So far, this virus has caused the death of 39 million people. By the s, HIV was believed to infect somebody on every continent. Rare lung infections, rapidly advancing cancers, and unexplained immune deficiencies were rampant among gay men, and at the time, doctors believed it was caused by same-sex activity. A large number of Haitians were also carriers of the virus, which were not named until Cases were identified in Europe and Africa.

Init was discovered that transmission occurred via heterosexual activities as well. Medicine for treatment was not available until This is a list of the largest known epidemics including pandemics caused by an infectious disease. Widespread non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer are not included.

An epidemic is the rapid spread of disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time.

epidemics in history

For example, in meningococcal infectionsan attack rate in excess of 15 cases perpeople for two consecutive weeks is considered an epidemic. Due to the large time spans, the first plague pandemic 6th century—8th century and the second plague pandemic 14th century—early 19th century are shown by individual outbreaks, such as the Plague of Justinian first pandemic and the Black Death second pandemic. Events in boldface are ongoing.

For a given epidemic, the average of its estimated death toll range is used for ranking.

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If the death toll averages of two or more epidemics equal, then the smaller the range, the higher the rank. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. A list of death tolls due to infectious disease. Pandemic portal. Retrieved Our World in Data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 10 Worst Epidemics In History

April 8, Emerging Infectious Diseases. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Medical History. The Flu. Retrieved April 5, Archived from the original on University of Maryland Medical Center. International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Elsevier Science. Studies in Late Antiquity. The Atlantic. Retrieved 20 March University of California, Los Angeles.

Epidemics in U.S. History

Retrieved 7 July Annual of the British School at Athens. Plague and the end of Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Princeton, New Jersey: Checkmark Books. A pest in the land: new world epidemics in a global perspective. University of New Mexico Press.In the realm of infectious diseases, a pandemic is the worst case scenario.

Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenzasmallpox and others first appeared during this period. The more civilized humans became, building cities and forging trade routes to connect with other cities, and waging wars with them, the more likely pandemics became. See a timeline below of pandemics that, in ravaging human populations, changed history. The earliest recorded pandemic happened during the Peloponnesian War. After the disease passed through Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, it crossed the Athenian walls as the Spartans laid siege.

As much as two-thirds of the population died. The symptoms included fever, thirst, bloody throat and tongue, red skin and lesions. The disease, suspected to have been typhoid fever, weakened the Athenians significantly and was a significant factor in their defeat by the Spartans. The Antonine plague was possibly an early appearance of smallpox that began with the Huns.

The Huns then infected the Germans, who passed it to the Romans and then returning troops spread it throughout the Roman empire. Symptoms included fever, sore throat, diarrhea and, if the patient lived long enough, pus-filled sores. This plague continued until about A.

Named after the first known victim, the Christian bishop of Carthage, the Cyprian plague entailed diarrhea, vomiting, throat ulcers, fever and gangrenous hands and feet. City dwellers fled to the country to escape infection but instead spread the disease further. Possibly starting in Ethiopia, it passed through Northern Africa, into Rome, then onto Egypt and northward. There were recurring outbreaks over the next three centuries.

In A. First appearing in Egypt, the Justinian plague spread through Palestine and the Byzantine Empireand then throughout the Mediterranean. The plague changed the course of the empire, squelching Emperor Justinian's plans to bring the Roman Empire back together and causing massive economic struggle. It is also credited with creating an apocalyptic atmosphere that spurred the rapid spread of Christianity. Recurrences over the next two centuries eventually killed about 50 million people, 26 percent of the world population.

epidemics in history

It is believed to be the first significant appearance of the bubonic plaguewhich features enlarged lymphatic gland and is carried by rats and spread by fleas. Though it had been around for ages, leprosy grew into a pandemic in Europe in the Middle Agesresulting in the building of numerous leprosy-focused hospitals to accommodate the vast number of victims. A slow-developing bacterial disease that causes sores and deformities, leprosy was believed to be a punishment from God that ran in families.

This belief led to moral judgments and ostracization of victims. Responsible for the death of one-third of the world population, this second large outbreak of the bubonic plague possibly started in Asia and moved west in caravans.

Entering through Sicily in A. Dead bodies became so prevalent that many remained rotting on the ground and created a constant stench in cities.

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A History of Pandemics, Part 1

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