Fears of the coronavirus are affecting the travel plans of over 46 million people worldwide and Chinese officials, where the outbreak started, are worried that the disease is spreading.
China’s President Xi Jinping stressed the urgency of controlling the outbreak, which is confirmed to have infected hundreds just since Friday. The number of infected people, at the time of writing this article, has risen to more than 1,300; the number of confirmed deaths is 41.
The world has been getting better at identifying pandemics and stopping the spread of disease throughout the world. But it hasn’t always been that way. And even in the 20th century, certain outbreaks killed millions of people.
But first…what is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? An epidemic is a disease that can affect many people but is generally confined to one area of the world. A pandemic is an epidemic that goes world-wide.
The following is a list of some of the deadliest pandemics in our history:
HIV/AIDS Pandemic 1981-2012:
The first reported cases of HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) were reported in 1981. But by the early 2000s, the number of people infected had grown to nearly 65 million making it a true pandemic.
Nearly 25 million of these infected people died, and during 2005 alone about 2.8 million people died of AIDS. The pandemic is worst in Sub-Sahara Africa. About 10 percent of the world’s population lives there, however about 64 percent of the world’s HIV infected people live there.
Flu Pandemic of 1918:
One of the worst pandemics of human history began in January of 1918 and ran through December 1920. The H1N1 flu virus was known at the time as the Spanish Flu as censors during World War I wanted to play down the effect the disease was having on people in the military.
This influenza pandemic spread from Asia to Europe, North America, and even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Over 500,000,000 people were infected and anywhere between 50,000,000 to 100,000,000 people died. This pandemic wiped out about 3-5 percent of the world’s population.
It was so bad in the United States, that the average life expectancy dropped 12 years during the first year of the pandemic.
Cholera Pandemic of 1852-1860:
Cholera was a frequent pandemic in Asia, and this particular outbreak spread from the Ganges Delta to Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America killing about a million people.
This was the third outbreak of the disease. English physician John Snow was the first to track down that the cholera virus that was caused by contaminated water. The year he made the discovery, was the deadliest year in Great Britain with over 23,000 people succumbing to the disease.
The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, ripped across Europe and West Asia during a seven-year period between 1347-1353. This pandemic claimed the lives of between 75 and 200 million people.
Once again, the plague was carried by fleas that fed on black rats. The rats feasted on grain that was in merchant ships. The Black Death broke along the Silk Road and spread to all of the Mediterranean. The Black Death killed between 30 and 60 percent of Europe’s population.
Plague of Justinian:
This pandemic was named after Roman Emperor Justinian I and began in 541-542 A.D. It swept across the Byzantine Empire, and decimated the population, killing an estimated 25 million people, particularly in Constantinople. It was a bubonic plague caused by black rats.
The rats would feed and hide on the grain ships thus quickly spreading the plague to all of the Mediterranean port cities. The plague would intermittently reappear during the next 200 years and claim an estimated one-third of the population.
This is sometimes referred to as the Plague of Galen. It took place between 165-180 A.D. It was a pandemic brought back to Italy from the Near East (Mesopotamia) by the Roman Legions.
The plague killed around five million people. It is believed to have been either smallpox or measles. When the legions brought the disease back to Rome, it killed nearly 25 percent of the people infected, about a third of Rome’s population, and decimated the Roman army.