8 Deadly Pandemics That Changed History

We are now experiencing a pandemic, which is a terrible experience for most people, but pandemics like this, or even much worse, have occurred in the past, with far more loss of life.

Deadly Pandemics That Changed History

Black Death


The Black Death was a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Afro-Eurasia from 1346 to 1353. It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, causing the death of 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

Deaths - 75–200 million

Spanish flu


Spanish flu, also known as the Great Influenza epidemic or the 1918 influenza pandemic, was an exceptionally deadly global influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. 

The earliest documented case was March 1918 in Kansas, United States, with further cases recorded in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in April. Two years later, nearly a third of the global population, or an estimated 500 million people, had been infected in four successive waves. 

Estimates of deaths range from 17.4 million to 100 million, with an accepted general range of 25-50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

Deaths - 17–100 million

Plague of Justinian


The Plague of Justinian or Justinianic Plague (541–549 AD) was the first major outbreak of the first plague pandemic, the first Old World pandemic of plague, the contagious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. 

The disease afflicted the entire Mediterranean Basin, Europe, and the Near East, severely affecting the Sasanian Empire and the Byzantine Empire and especially its capital, Constantinople. 

The plague is named for the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, Justinian I (r. 527–565) who, according to his court historian Procopius, contracted the disease and recovered in 542, at the height of the epidemic which killed about a fifth of the population in the imperial capital.

In 2013, researchers confirmed earlier speculation that the cause of the Plague of Justinian was Yersinia pestis, the same bacterium responsible for the Black Death (1347–1351). 

Ancient and modern Yersinia pestis strains closely related to the ancestor of the Justinian plague strain have been found in the Tian Shan, a system of mountain ranges on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China, suggesting that the Justinian plague originated in or near that region

Deaths - 15–100 million

HIV/AIDS pandemic



HIV/AIDS, or human immunodeficiency virus, is considered by some authors a global pandemic. However, the WHO currently uses the term 'global epidemic' to describe HIV. As of 2018, approximately 37.9 million people are infected with HIV globally. 

There were about 770,000 deaths from AIDS in 2018. The 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study, in a report published in The Lancet, estimated that the global incidence of HIV infection peaked in 1997 at 3.3 million per year. Global incidence fell rapidly from 1997 to 2005, to about 2.6 million per year, but remained stable from 2005 to 2015.

Deaths - 36.3 million (as of 2020)


Third plague pandemic


The third plague pandemic was a major bubonic plague pandemic that began in Yunnan, China, in 1855 during the fifth year of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing dynasty.

This episode of bubonic plague spread to all inhabited continents and ultimately led to more than 12 million deaths in India and China (and perhaps 15 million worldwide), with at least 10 million killed in India alone, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

Deaths - 12–15 million

Cocoliztli epidemic of 1545–1548


The cocoliztli epidemic, or the great pestilence, is a term given to millions of deaths in the territory of New Spain in present-day Mexico in the 16th century attributed to one or more illnesses collectively called cocoliztli, a mysterious illness characterized by high fevers and bleeding. 

It ravaged the Mexican highlands in epidemic proportions. The disease became known as Cocoliztli by the native Aztecs, and had devastating effects on the area’s demography, particularly for the indigenous people.

Deaths - 5–15 million


Antonine Plague


The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD, also known as the Plague of Galen (after Galen, the physician who described it), was an ancient pandemic brought to the Roman Empire by troops who were returning from campaigns in the Near East. Scholars have suspected it to have been either smallpox or measles.

The plague may have claimed the life of a Roman emperor, Lucius Verus, who died in 169 and was the co-regent of Marcus Aurelius. The two emperors had risen to the throne by virtue of being adopted by the previous emperor, Antoninus Pius, and as a result, their family name, Antoninus, has become associated with the pandemic.

Deaths - 5–10 million


COVID-19 pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is an ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). 

The novel virus was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019; a lockdown in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province failed to contain the outbreak, and it spread to other parts of mainland China and around the world. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, and a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Since 2021, variants of the virus have emerged or become dominant in many countries, with the Delta, Alpha, and Beta variants being the most virulent.

Deaths - 4.5–10 million+


Sujeet Kumar

I like writing about Science, games and free software.

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