A History of Deadly Diseases and Epidemics

A timeline of the worst epidemics and pandemics in recorded history
Spanish Flu epidemic
Red Cross Nurses caring for patients during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic|Photo by British Red Cross via Flickr

We are currently experiencing the worst Ebola outbreak on record. In less than a year, more than 4,000 people have died as a result of the virus. The CDC said that in a worst-case scenario, the disease could effect as many as 1.4 million people world-wide by January. However, this is not the first, nor the worst epidemic on record. CNN.com put together a timeline of deadly diseases that have occurred throughout recorded history. They are as follows:

430 B.C.: SmallPox

In 430B.C. smallpox killed more than 30,000 people in Athens, Greece, reducing the population by at least 20%.

541 A.D.: Plague of Justinian

The Plague of Justinian began in 541 and continued for 200 year with varying severity. According to some estimates it killed 50 million people in the Middle East, Asia and the Mediterranean basin.The plague is caused by bacteria that are spread by rats that were bitten by infected fleas.

1334: The Great Plague of London

The Great Plague of London, which actually began in China in 1334, spread along major trade routes killing millions. In just six months, Florence, Italy, lost 30,000 of its 90,000 residents. Overall, Europe lost 25 million people.

1519: Smallpox

After Hernando Cortes arrived in what is not called Mexico in 1519, his European troops and settlers brought the smallpox disease with them, which infected the native population. Between 5 and 8 million of the native population died in the first 2 years. Over the next century, only 2 million of the original 25 million native population would survive this and other communicable diseases brought over by Europeans.

1633: Smallpox

Settlers from France, Great Britain and the Netherlands brought smallpox to Massachusetts in 1633. The disease spread to the native population, killing an estimated 20 million people.

1793: Yellow Fever

In 1793 Philadelphia lost a 10th of the 45,000-person population to a yellow fever epidemic.

1860: The Modern Plague

Beginning in the 1860s, the Modern Plague killed more than 12 million people in China, India, and Hong Kong. It wasn’t until the 1890s that a vaccine was created.

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1901: Smallpox

A smallpox epidemic in Boston infected 1,500 people in 1901. There were 278 reported deaths.

1910: Plague

The largest plague outbreak in the 20th century occurred in Manchuria between 1910 and 1911, killing approximately 60,000 people.

1918: Great Flu Pandemic

Between 1918 and 1919 it is estimated that 30 million and 50 million people worldwide were killed by the flu. Among them were 675,000 Americans.

1984: HIV Infections/AIDS

In 1984, scientists identified the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, as the cause of AIDS. That same years the disease killed more that 5,500 people in the U.S. More than 25 million people around the world have died of AIDS since the first cases were reported. Today 35 million people around the world are living with the HIV infection.

2003: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

SARS  was identified in China in 2003 but the first case is believed to have occurred in November 2002. By July 2003 more than 8,000 cases and 774 deaths had been reported.

2009: H1N1 (Swine Flu)

The global H1N1 flu pandemic may have killed as many as 575,000 people, thought only 18,5000 deaths were confirmed.

2012: Measles, Typhoid Fever, Tuberculosis

In 2012 approximately 122,000 people worldwide died from measles, 216,000 died from Typhoid fever, and 1.3 million died from Tuberculosis. These are some of the diseases that most concern health officials today.

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