The 10 Worst Pandemics In Human History



1918 Flu Posters (Courtesy,

Throughout recorded history, dating back to Biblical times, the world has known several pandemics, but 10 of them stand out as the worst of them all.

There are divergent views as to what a pandemic is, in the first instance, but all views converge at the point that the word describes the widespread occurrence of disease “in excess of what might normally be expected in a geographical region”.

All through history, outbreaks of diseases across international borders, have been appropriately described as pandemics. These include the bubonic plague, small pox and influenza, with smallpox having so far killed between 300 – 500 million people in its 12,000 year history.

Coronavirus (Courtesy,

COVID19 The Current Scourge (2019 – ?)

The world is presently grappling with a strain of the Corona Virus Disease, named the Covid-19, (a short form of ‘Coronavirus Disease of 2019’). This new disease, a novelty, so to speak, was first seen in the Wuhan region of China, in December 2019, where it first began appearing in human beings.

Due to its newness, this virus spreads with an incredible speed between people, due to the fact that, as of today, nobody in the world has any immunity against it because, prior to 2019, no one had Covid-19. Within months, what was hitherto seen as an epidemic in China, soon spread, worldwide. In March, 2020, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. By the end of the same month, half a million infections had been recorded, with 30,000 deaths. The figures are spiraling by the day. As of the time of filing this report today, April 8, 2020, 1,062,030 people had caught the disease, worldwide. Out of this figure, 83,644 deaths, (representing 5.75%) have occurred, while 309,825 cases (21.29%) have recovered.

In a bid to curb its spread, the outbreak of Covid-19 has led to the biggest lockdown in all of human history and the outcome and future effects of this massive confinement of humans, on the global economy and culture, among other things, are yet to be determined. Offices, banks, schools, airports and most businesses (except for essential services like healthcare and food delivery) remain shut. Airports, all over, are closed to traffic and buses and trains are scarcely running.

However, while surviving this present scourge is humanity’s immediate priority, there are a great deal of lessons to be learnt from past pandemics.

HIV Virus (Courtesy

HIV/AIDS Pandemic (At its Peak, 2005 – 2012)

Caused by the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV), the AIDS pandemic, being a sexually transmitted disease, has been one of history’s most troubling outbreaks, its main victims being majorly the young, dynamic and the normally healthy — the drivers of the global economy and productive human activity. The virus was first identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Since 1981, it has killed more than 36 million people, worldwide. Between 31 and 35 million people live with HIV, a vast majority of those victims being in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 5% of the population, roughly 21 million people, are infected. However, due to awareness and new treatments, HIV has become more manageable and between 2005 and 2012, the annual global deaths resulting from the virus have dropped from 2.2 million to 1.6 million.

Flu Pandemic (1968)

First reported in Hong Kong on July 13, 1968, this category 2 Flu pandemic of the H3N2 strain of Influenza A virus, is a genetic offshoot of the H2N2 subtype, sometimes called the “the Hong Kong Flu”. Within 17 days, it spread from Hong Kong to Singapore and Vietnam. By the third month, it had spread to The Philippines, India, Australia, Europe and the United States. It claimed more than a million lives, worldwide, but decimated the population of Hong Kong by approximately 15% of its population at the time, having killed 500,000 of its residents.

Asian Flu (1956 – 1958)

Again caused by influenza, the Asian Flu pandemic was of the Influenza A H2N2 subtype that originated from the Chinese province of Guizhou. Within its two-year period of havoc, it had swept through Singapore to Hong Kong and the United States. The World Health Organisation (WHO) places its final death toll at 2 million, with 69,800 of the dead in the United States alone.

The Spanish Flu pandemic (Courtesy,

Flu Pandemic (1918 – 1920)

The Flu Pandemic which broke out between 1918 and 1920, (exactly a century ago) was caused by influenza. It swept through the globe like a wild hurricane, knocking down a whopping 500 million people in its wake (over a third of the world’s population) and extinguishing the lives of between 20 – 50 million individuals. The mortality rate of this pandemic was estimated to be between 10% to 20%, with up to 25 million deaths in the first 25 weeks alone. The vicious 1918 pandemic was unique. While the previous flu outbreaks claimed only the vulnerable — juveniles, the elderly, the already weak and sick — this very pandemic went for the strong, healthy, young adults and the hardy, leaving the hitherto vulnerable populations.

Sixth Cholera Pandemic (1910 – 1911)

This Sixth Cholera Pandemic originated in India, where it killed over 800,000 people before spreading to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. It was the source of the last cholera outbreak in America (1910 – 1911) before that country’s health authorities finally wiped out the disease in their country, losing only 11 people before containing the disease.

Flu Pandemic (1889 -1890)

The ‘Asiatic Flu’ or ‘Russian Flu’, as it was originally called, this plague was caused by influenza. It was thought to be of the Influenza A virus subtype H2N2, but recent discoveries have found the cause to be the Influenza A virus subtype H3N8. It was a global affliction and the first epidemic in the era of bacteriology and quite a lot was learned from it. Within the year of its outbreak, it claimed over a million people.

The Third Cholera Pandemic (1852 – 1860)

Originating from India and spreading from the Ganges River Delta, it rifled its way through Asia, Europe, North America and Africa, dragging to their graves, over a million people. The Third Cholera Pandemic is considered the most deadly of the seven cholera outbreaks of the 19th century. In Great Britain alone, the disease claimed 23,000 lives in 1854, its worst year.

Learn from history; don’t panic (Courtesy,

The Black Death (1346 – 1353)

This Bubonic plague, as well, ravaged three continents in its wake, sweeping through Europe, Africa, and Asia, with an estimated death toll of between 75 and 200 million people. It is thought that this plague most likely jumped continents by way of the fleas that lived aboard the merchant ships.

Plague of Justinian (541 – 542)

This was caused by the Bubonic Plague and claimed 25 million lives. In its year-long reign of terror, this pandemic wiped out, perhaps, half the population of the entire Europe, afflicting the Byzantine Empire and the Mediterranean port cities, devastating the city of Constantinople, where, at the height of the outbreak, up to 5,000 people died every day, finally claiming some 40 per cent of the city’s population.

The Antonine Plague (165 AD)

Of unknown causes, this pandemic, also known as the Plague of Galen, affected Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt and Italy. Thought to have been Smallpox or Measles, the unknown disease was brought back to Rome, from Mesopotamia, by returning soldiers. In the end, its death toll rose to 5 million and decimated the Roman army.


Active – 1,062,030

Deaths – 83,644 (5.75%)

Recoveries – 309,825 (21.29%)

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