Deadliest Pandemic/Epidemic

10 Deadliest Pandemic/Epidemic that shook the world

Before the Covid-19, many momentous epidemic and pandemic altered the course of human history, killing large percentages of the global population. Diseases like the plague, smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, and other contagions killed hundreds of millions around the world. But with the rapid rate of cases and death, the 2019 coronavirus has already touched the bottom line of the top 10 deadliest diseases.

The motive of creating this list is to inform that mankind has survived many similar epidemic diseases that have caused havoc. Although the death toll is not in exact number, we can get a gist of its immensity. Without further ado let’s list out the top ten deadliest disease outbreak that the world has braced.

1.1957-1958 Pandemic (H2N2 virus)

Death Toll: 1-2 Million Approx. • Cause: Influenza A virus subtype H2N2

Also known as the Asian Flu. In February 1957, a new influenza A (H2N2) virus originated in China, triggering a worldwide pandemic outbreak. The strain of the virus was a combination of avian influenza and human influenza viruses.

The microbiologist Maurice Hilleman made a significant contribution to the development of a vaccine. The vaccine entered trials on 26 July. Maurice was later regarded as the godfather of vaccines for his great contribution to the field of vaccinology.

The virus continued to transmit until 1968 when it transformed via antigenic shift into influenza A virus subtype H3N2, the cause of the 1968 influenza pandemic that killed an additional 1 million.

2. 1918–1922 Russia typhus epidemic

Death Toll: 2-3 Million Approx. • Cause: Bacteria called Rickettsia prowazekii.

Typhus was a major health problem in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia. Typhus ran rampant in World War I and in the years of civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution. An estimated 25 million to 30 million cases emerged in 1922; the peak of the epidemic in Soviet territory.

In 1930, Rudolf Weigl was able to practice the effective vaccine production method. However, it was very dangerous to produce, and further infectious to the developer. Herald R. Cox developed a safer method using egg yolks in 1938. This vaccine was widely available and used extensively by 1943.

Nowadays, the infection is treated with antibiotics like Tetracycline, chloramphenicol, and doxycycline. Vaccination has became available to prevent infection.

3. 1520 Mexico smallpox epidemic

Death Toll: 5-8 Million Approx • Cause: Variola virus

The native people of Mexico experienced an epidemic outbreak in the wake of European conquest. The smallpox epidemic of 1519 to 1520 took the life of 5 million to 8 million people. The viruses lead to the downfall and overthrow of empires like the Aztecs and Incas.

10 Deadliest Pandemic

In 1803, Spanish doctor Francisco Javier Balmis started a vaccination program against smallpox in New Spain, better known as Balmis Expedition. The program reduced the severity and mortality of the epidemics that followed.

After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the global eradication of smallpox on December 1979.

4. 165-180 A.D. Antonine Plague

Deaths: 5 million-10 Million • Cause: Unknown/ Possibly Measles or smallpox

Also known as the Plague of Galen, was an ancient pandemic of the Roman Empire. The pandemic majorly affected Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Nobody has ever nailed down the exact cause, but symptoms recorded by a physician named Galen – gruesome skin sores, high fever, diarrhea, and sore throats – strongly suggest it was either smallpox and measles. 

As the pandemic occurred in ancient world, not much information was written on this ancient pandemic.

5. Cocoliztli Epidemic of 1545-

Deaths: 5 million-20 Million • Cause: Unknown/ Possibly Viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) or Salmonella enterica

The epidemic of Cocoliztli from 1545 to 1548 killed an estimated 5 million to 15 million people or up to 80% of the natives of Mexico. Based on the death toll, this outbreak became the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico.

10 Deadliest Pandemic

Ten lesser epidemics of cocoliztli began in the years 1559, 1566, 1587, 1592, 1601, 1604, 1606, 1613, 1624, and 1642.

6. Third plague pandemic 1855-1960

Deaths: 12-15 Million • Cause: Bacillus Yersinia pestis

The third plague pandemic was a third major bubonic plague pandemic that began in China in 1855. The disease reached the globe over the next several decades through infected rats. Most of the devastation took place in China and India. Despite the heavy casualties, the pandemic led to several breakthroughs in doctors’ understanding of the bubonic plague. In 1894, a researcher identified bacillus Yersinia pestis as the cause of the disease.

Bubonic plague outbreaks are controlled by pest control and modern sanitation techniques.

7. Plague of Justinian (541-542)

Deaths: 25-50 million • Cause: Bubonic Plague caused by Bacillus Yersinia pestis

Thought to be the world’s first episode of bubonic plague. The pandemic believed to have originated in Africa later spread to Europe through infected rats on merchant ships. 25 million death were estimated, but the actual death toll may have been much higher.

8. HIV/AIDS pandemic (From 1976 )

Deaths: 32 million Approx.• Cause: HIV/AIDS

First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes a spectrum of conditions in those infected, leading to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV destroys a certain type of white blood cell that plays a major role in your immune system. The virus gradually weakens your natural defences, causing signs and symptoms to occur as time goes on.

About 35 million people have died from AIDS or HIV-related illnesses since 1981. As a result, more awareness program has grown. Additionally, new treatments have been developed making HIV far more manageable, and many of those infected go on to lead productive lives, for instance.

9. 1918 flu pandemic or Spanish Flu (1918-1920)

Deaths: 50 million Approx. • Cause: Influenza A virus subtype H1N1

Spanish flu was caused by a deadly subtype of the H1N1 virus in 1918-1920. Considered the worst in modern history, it killed an estimated 50 million to 100 million people in just 18 months. Some 500 million were estimated to be infected by the virus, and its spread was exacerbated by the ongoing World war I. Unlike other types of influenza, it oddly infected healthy youths.

1918 Spanish flu became the first of two pandemics caused by H1N1 influenza A virus; the second being the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

10. Black Death (1347-1352)

Deaths: 75-200 million • Cause: Bubonic Plague caused by Bacillus Yersinia pestis

The plague has killed by far the most people – claiming tens of millions of lives around the world. Throughout history, plague epidemics have erupted in several eras. About a third of Europe’s population was wiped out in the 14th century by bubonic plague, known as the Black Death because it forms black spots on the skin. The scale of the fatalities is one of the deadliest ever recorded in human history.

10 Deadliest Pandemic
Visible sign of Infection

Thought to have originated in Asia, the Plague most likely jumped continents. The plague ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Medieval physicians tried to combat the disease using bloodletting, lancing and other crude techniques, but with little understanding of its cause. We can still see the occurrence of bubonic plague in a fewer number till now.


Nonetheless, humanity has learned lessons from these diseases. It has since taught us not to take things for granted. Cholera taught us the importance of clean water and sanitation, AIDS changed our sexual behaviour. It also taught us the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and cleaning habit.

Also Read: What caused the extinction of dinosaurs?

Looking at the data from the worldometer, Covid-19 may make it into this list soon. As the current death toll lies at 1.1 Million with no sign of stopping it may take longer to completely eradicate the virus. So, please Stay Safe and follow the guidelines of the government. Let’s defeat this Virus.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts