Over the centuries, pandemics have claimed millions of lives, disrupted travel, economies and changed health practices
Pandemic is a word that can cause unreasonable fear, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. A pandemic is declared when a new disease spread around the world beyond expectations and people do not have immunity, according to the World Health Organization.
The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is the latest pandemic declared in the 21st century, the last being the 2009 flu pandemic popularly known as Swine flu.
Over the centuries, pandemics have claimed millions of lives, disrupted travel, economies and changed health practices.
Here is a look at some pandemics which changed the world:
430 BC: Plague of Athens
The Plague of Athens was an epidemic that affected the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year of the Peloponnesian War.
The plague killed at least 75,000 to 100,000 people as much as two-thirds of the population and is believed to have entered Athens main city through Piraeus, the city's port and sole source of food and supplies.
The symptoms included fever, thirst, bloody throat and tongue, red skin and lesions. The disease, suspected to have been typhoid fever and weakened the Athenians significantly and was a significant factor in their defeat by the Spartans.
165 AD: Antonine Plague
The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD is also known as the Plague of Galen which was an early appearance of smallpox that began with the Huns. The Huns infected the Germans who passed it to the Romans and then returning troops spread it throughout the Roman empire.
Symptoms included fever, throat sore, diarrhea and, if the patient lived long enough, pus-filled sores.
The disease broke out again nine years later, according to the Roman historian Dio Cassius (155–235), causing up to 2,000 deaths a day in Rome, one quarter of those who were affected. The epidemic may have claimed the life of a Roman emperor, Lucius Verus, who died in 169 CE.
250 AD: Plague of Cyprian
The Plague of Cyprian was a pandemic that afflicted the Roman Empire from 249AD to 262.
The plague is thought to have caused widespread manpower shortages for food production and the Roman army, severely weakening the empire.
The disease was named after the first victim, the Christian bishop of Carthage, the Cyprian plague entailed diarrhea, vomiting, throat ulcers, fever and gangrenous hands and feet.
City dwellers fled to the country to escape infection but instead spread the disease further. Possibly starting in Ethiopia, it passed through Northern Africa, into Rome, then onto Egypt and northward.
There were recurring outbreaks over the next three centuries. Later, in 444 AD, it again hit Britain and obstructed defense efforts against the Picts and the Scots.
541 AD: Plague of Justinian
According to some historians, the plague of Justinian was one of the deadliest pandemics in history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 25–50 million people during two centuries of recurrence.
First appearing in Egypt, the Justinian plague spread through Palestine and the Byzantine Empire, and then throughout the Mediterranean.
The plague changed the course of the empire, squelching Emperor Justinian's plans to bring the Roman Empire back together and causing massive economic struggle.
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).
Leprosy grew into a pandemic in Europe in the Middle Ages, resulting in the building of numerous leprosy-focused hospitals to accommodate the vast number of victims.
Leprosy, a slow-developing bacterial disease that causes sores and deformities was believed to be a punishment from God that ran in families.
The infection can lead to damage of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes where the nerve damage can result lack of ability to feel pain.
1350: The Black Death
The Black Death is also known as the Pestilence, Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague or the Plague, or less commonly the Black Plague or the Great Mortality, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.
The most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes or gavocciolos in the groin, the neck and armpits, which oozed pus and bled when opened.
It resulted the deaths of an estimated 75-200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. Dead bodies became so prevalent that many remained rotting on the ground and created a constant stench in cities.
1492: The Columbian Exchange
Diseases such as smallpox, measles and bubonic plague were passed along to the native populations by the Europeans, following the arrival of the Spanish in the Caribbean.
With no previous exposure, these diseases infected indigenous people, with as many as 90 percent dying throughout the north and south continents.
These diseases effected many of the Native people of the New World because they were not immune to these foreign diseases.
Research in 2019 even concluded that the deaths of some 56 million Native Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries, largely through disease, may have altered Earth's climate as vegetation growth on previously tilled land drew more CO2 from the atmosphere and caused a cooling event.
1665: The Great Plague of London
The bubonic plague led to the deaths of 20 percent of London's population in its second recorded appearance.
The Great Plague killed an estimated 100,000 people—almost a quarter of London's population—in 18 months. The worst of the outbreak tapered off in the fall of 1666, around the same time as another devastating event—the Great Fire of London.
As human death tolls mounted and mass graves appeared, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs were slaughtered as the possible cause and the disease spread through ports along the Thames.
1817: First Cholera Pandemic
The first cholera pandemic is also known as the first Asiatic cholera pandemic which began near the city of Calcutta and spread throughout Southeast Asia to the Middle East, eastern Africa and the Mediterranean coast.
Spreading through feces-infected water and food, the bacterium was passed along to British soldiers who brought it to India where millions more died.
The reach of the British Empire and its navy spread cholera to Spain, Africa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Italy, Germany and America, where it killed 150,000 people. A vaccine was invented in 1885 but the pandemics continued.
1855: The 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 which claimed 15 million victims.
Initially the plague spread by fleas during a mining boom in Yunnan and is considered a factor in the Parthay rebellion and the Taiping rebellion.
India faced the most substantial casualties, and the epidemic was used as an excuse for repressive policies that sparked some revolt against the British. The pandemic was considered active until 1960 when cases dropped below a couple hundred.
1875: Fiji Measles Pandemic
The epidemic in Fiji occurred in 1875 during a critical time period on the Fiji Islands. Europeans were expanding trade throughout the pacific islands, including Fiji.
Spreading quickly, the island was littered with corpses that were scavenged by wild animals, and entire villages died and were burned down, sometimes with the sick trapped inside the fires. One-third of Fiji's population, a total of 40,000 people, died of the epidemic.
1889: Russian Flu
The flu was a deadly influenza pandemic that killed about 1 million people worldwide.
The outbreak was dubbed "Asiatic flu" or "Russian flu". The first significant flu pandemic started in Siberia and Kazakhstan, traveled to Moscow, and made its way into Finland and then Poland, where it moved into the rest of Europe.
By the following year, it had crossed the ocean into North America and Africa. By the end of 1890, 360,000 had died.
1918: Spanish Flu
The 1918 wire service reports of a flu outbreak in Madrid in the spring of 1918 led to the pandemic being called the "Spanish flu."
The avian-borne flu that resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide, the Spanish flu is theorized to have originated in China and been spread by Chinese laborers being transported by rail across Canada on their way to Europe.
In North America, the flu first appeared in Kansas in early 1918 and was visible in Europe by spring. By October, hundreds of thousands of Americans died and body storage scarcity hit crisis level. But the flu threat disappeared in the summer of 1919 when most of the infected had either developed immunities or died.
1957-58: Asian flu
Asian flu of 1957 is also called Asian flu pandemic of 1957 which was first identified in February 1957 in East Asia and that subsequently spread to countries worldwide.
Starting in Hong Kong and spreading throughout China and then into the United States, the Asian flu became widespread in England where, over six months, 14,000 people died.
A second wave followed in early 1958, causing an estimated total of about 1.1 million deaths globally, with 116,000 deaths in the United States alone. A vaccine was developed, effectively containing the pandemic.
The origin of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been a subject of scientific research and debate since the virus was identified in the 1980s.
First identified in 1981, AIDS destroys a person's immune system, resulting in eventual death by diseases that the body would usually fight off. Those infected by the HIV virus encounter fever, headache, and enlarged lymph nodes upon infection. When symptoms subside, carriers become highly infectious through blood and genital fluid, and the disease destroys t-cells.
AIDS (which is short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a condition while HIV is a virus that may cause an infection.
AIDS was first observed in American gay communities but is believed to have developed from a chimpanzee virus from West Africa in the 1920s. The disease, which spreads through certain body fluids, moved to Haiti in the 1960s, and then New York and San Francisco in the 1970s.
Treatments have been developed to slow the progress of the disease, but 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery, and a cure is yet to be found.
1997: Bird flu
A 3-year-old boy developedan influenza virus which was found to spread directly from birds to people on May 1997.Despite intensive care, he died.
The symptoms include- sore throat, fever, and cough, persisted for six days.
The bird flu infections were linked to poultry markets. The first outbreak in Hong Kong killed six of 18 people infected. The World Health Organisation has recorded 598 cases since 2003, with 352 deaths.
Most deaths from bird flu are in Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam and China. So far, the virus has not adapted to spread easily between humans.
2009-2010: Swine Flu
Swine influenza virus (SIV) or swine-origin influenza virus (S-OIV) is any strain of the influenza family of viruses that is endemic in pigs. The 2009 flu pandemic or swine flu was an influenza pandemic that lasted from early 2009 to late 2010.
The swine flu was its most recent newsmaker, when a 2009 pandemic may have seen as many as 89 million people infected worldwide.
The original article was published by History.com.