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The Worst Pandemics in History

Asian Flu

From 1956 until 1958, the world was at war with The Asian Flu. The cause of the pandemic was an outbreak of Influenza A of the H2N2 subtype, that originated in China. During the two long years, the flu traveled from the Chinese province of Guizhou to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States. The total death count is unknown but the World Health Organization places the final tally at approximately 2 million deaths, 69,800 of those in the US alone.

The Black Plague

Also known as The Black Death ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia from 1346 until 1353. This plague was and will for always be one of the worst catastrophes mankind has ever faced. The estimated death toll was between 75 and 200 million people. Thought to have originated in Asia, the Plague spread fleas living on the rats that so frequently lived aboard merchant ships. Ports being major urban centers at the time, were the perfect breeding ground for the rats and fleas, and thus the insidious bacterium flourished, devastating three continents in its wake.


Smallpox was endemic to Europe, Asia, and Arabia for centuries, a persistent menace that killed three out of ten people it infected and left the rest with pockmarked scars. But the death rate in the Old World paled in comparison to the devastation wrought on native populations in the New World when the smallpox virus arrived in the 15th century with the first European explorers.  Centuries later, smallpox became the first virus epidemic to be ended by a vaccine. In the late 18th-century, a British doctor named Edward Jenner discovered that milkmaids infected with a milder virus called cowpox seemed immune to smallpox. Jenner famously inoculated his gardener’s 9-year-old son with cowpox and then exposed him to the smallpox virus with no ill effect.

Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu, another two-year-long pandemic that had countless victims. The flu started in 1918 and lasted until 1920. It had an estimated 500 million victims. Although it had such a high count of infected, only a mere one-fifth of those actually died. However, the Spanish Flu did manage to push some nations to the brink of extinction. “Despite the name Spanish Flu, the disease likely did not start in Spain. Spain was a neutral nation during the war and did not enforce strict censorship of its press, which could therefore freely publish early accounts of the illness. As a result, people falsely believed the illness was specific to Spain, and the name Spanish Flu stuck.”

Ebola Epidemic

We all are rather familiar with the Ebola Epidemic because it occurred rather recently. Ebola ravaged West Africa between 2014 and 2016, with 28,600 reported cases and 11,325 deaths. The first case to be reported was in Guinea in December 2013, then the disease quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. There is still no cure for Ebola, although efforts at finding a vaccine are ongoing. The first known cases of Ebola occurred in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, and the virus may have originated in bats.

Swine Flu

A large number of people believed that the swine flu was in some way connected to pigs. This in fact is not close to being true. In 2009 swine flu pandemic was caused by a new strain of H1N1 that originated in Mexico in the spring of 2009 before spreading to the rest of the world. In one year, the virus-infected as many as 1.4 billion people across the globe and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people, according to the CDC. Mostly children and young adults were affected. This was rather unusual, considering that most strains of flu viruses, including those that cause seasonal flu, cause the highest percentage of deaths in people ages 65 and older. A vaccine for the H1N1 virus that caused the swine flu is now included in the annual flu vaccine.


Unfortunately, the word is still battling against HIV and Aids. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) first emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1970s. The accepted hypothesis is that the virus jumped from chimps to humans through bush hunting in central Africa. Unlike many of the pandemics on this list, HIV is not transmitted from casual contact. HIV can spread through blood, sexual transmission, and from mother to child through birth or breastfeeding. In South Africa the virus is high amongst IV drug users. Today, HIV can be well managed in developed nations so it doesn’t progress to AIDS, but AIDS is still incredibly deadly in developing nations without access to adequate health care and preventative measures.


About the author

Riaan AG Beeslaar

Written by the founder and editor of Blue Monkey Magazine.

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