If I’ve learned anything writing these articles it’s that being
- Third Cholera pandemic – Over One Million
In the 1850s, people in the Ganges Delta in India began falling ill of cholera, a disease which basically causes such severe vomiting and diarrhea that it makes the infected person die of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Even today, over 100,000 people die each year of cholera, mainly in the developing world. In the 1850s, this meant a spread across the world, including England, mainland Europe, and most strongly, Russia. In Russia alone, over one million people died.
- Third Plague Epidemic – Over 12 million
When you mention the bubonic plague, most people think of that one outbreak that wiped out 70 percent of Europe’s population. However, that was not the only outbreak of the plague. The Third Plague Epidemic, which started in China, spread to all inhabited continents. Weirdly, this epidemic lasted a very long time, only considered over in 1959, when casualties dropped to 200 per year.
- Justinian Plague – Up to 25 million
In the port city of Pelusium in 541 A.D. Egypt, the Byzantine historian Procopius and reported a very troubling event – an outbreak of a horrible disease which was killing thousands. At its peak, Procopius reported a staggering 10,000 people dying each day in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This was made worse by Emperor Justinian (after whom the outbreak is named), who did not relent on taxes due to a pressing need for cash following a costly war against the Vandals in Italy. Procopius even reports that Justinian even demanded that neighbors pay the taxes of the dead. All in all, this epidemic of the bubonic plague claimed anywhere up to 25 million lives and weakened the strength of the Byzantine/Roman armies. Some scholars believe that the epidemic allowed the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England to take place.
- HIV/AIDS – Greater than 30 million, so far
HIV and AIDS has been an epidemic since the 1980s. The retrovirus destroys your body by dismantling your defenses cell by cell, using the cells which fight infections as breeding platforms before destroying them. Eventually, the body has no defenses left against infection and is destroyed by every small disease that it fights every day. The World Health Organization reports that the disease has killed up to 39 million since its first reported cases in 1981. This is the only epidemic on this list that is still in progress, killing 1.5 million people in 2013.
- Second Plague Pandemic – 100 million
This is the most famous of the historical plagues. The Bubonic plague. The Black Death. The killer of 70 percent of Europe’s population. Like the Justinian Plague and the Plague Pandemic that would follow, this began in China and spread west, sweeping up the Silk Road and leaving infected rats and people in its wake. After several waves of death, the Second Plague Epidemic finally ended in the 1800s after claiming around 100 million human lives.
- 1918 Flu Epidemic – 50 to 100 million
The flu is such a common illness that we have designated it its own season. With the disease sweeping across the world every year, it is easy to forget that it kills over 100,000 people each year, most of whom are very young or elderly. However, the flu epidemic of 1918 was different. While some elderly and very young people were getting sick and dying, this strain of influenza killed more young adults (the group with the strongest immune systems) than any other group. This was also known as the Spanish Flu, since its neutrality in the first world war allowed for accurate media reporting of infections and deaths, creating the illusion that Spain was especially hard-hit. With one-third of the world infected with the flu, a 10-20 percent mortality rate meant that 3-5 percent of the world’s population, between 50 and 100 million people, died. This flu pandemic is sometimes referred to as “the greatest medical holocaust in history.”