Throughout history, pandemics have been the culprit for massive reigns of terror. A single effective virus can take down entire continents. The following list has 5 examples of some of these insane pandemics we’ve faced throughout human history.
There is a reason why the government has a specific department (CDC) dedicated just to studying and preparing for these events. Here’s 5 reasons why:
The Plague (Black Death)
The origin of the black death is still heavily disputed. It’s thought that it came from merchants/soldiers that carried it over the trading/war routes.
The black death hit Europe during a time when medical services were not able to respond to such an event. It took a record 25 million people (one fourth of the entire population at the time).
The black death came in numerous forms, with pneumonic being the most deadly. However, the most common was bubonic (which can morph into pneumonic), which still kills up to half of those infected within just a couple of weeks.
It is highly contagious, which is how it was able to spread so wide and cause so much devastation in such a short amount of time. It is also a Cat A Agent and largely regarded as the most deadly.
The plague itself (Y. Pestis) caused many epidemics throughout history, including the Third Epidemic and another one further down on this list (Plague of Justinian).
The Spanish Flu
The Spanish Flu was exactly that—a flu. It came about in the last months of World War 1, being first found in the US. Not too long after it was discovered, it was declared a pandemic across the world.
It was the first of two pandemics involving the H1N1 virus.
It was so contagious that it infected half of the entire world’s population during its course of life as a virus. That’s an astonishing 500 million people. It was so virulent that it even managed to infect individuals on remote islands in the Arctic and Pacific islands.
It resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people, which equated to 3-5 percent of the world’s population.
What made the Spanish Flu so unique was that it was found at the end of World War 1, but the devastation it caused killed more people than the number of people killed in the war itself.
It is also hypothesized that this flu virus is what tipped the scale in favor of the Allies during the war. The virus hit the Central Powers long before they hit the Allied powers, and mortality was much higher in countries such as Germany/Austria than Britain/France. This pandemic may have been why WW1 was won in favor of the allies.
The Plague (Plague of Justinian)
The plague returns on our list here. During the time of the Byzantine Empire, Y. Pestis infected hundreds of thousands of people during the reign of emperor Justinian I (where it got its name). It is one of the deadliest plagues in history, killing an estimated 25-50 million people during its recurrence periods. That’s equivalent to 13-26% of the world’s population (at the time of outbreak).
This was a massive pandemic for the empire, because at the conclusion nearly half of the inhabitants of the city were dead. Not only that, but it also killed 25 percent of the population in the eastern Mediterranean.
This is also a notable outbreak, because it was the first recorded instance of the plague. There would be many more that followed, as it is a virus that we have not yet been able to completely eradicate.
Pandemics of this magnitude did not return to Europe until one of the other deadliest plagues in history struck the continent (The Black Death).
Smallpox (The Antonine Plague)
The first (suspected) instance of Smallpox was the Antonine Plague. It is assumed that it was brought to Rome by soldiers returning from war.
The disease killed over 2,000 people a day in Rome. By the time it died off (10+ years later), a total of 5 million people were dead. It demonstrated a mortality rate of nearly 25%.
The Antonine Plague was also a principal component of the initial devastation of the Roman army, severely handicapping their fighting ability during its height. The disease killed up to one-third of the population in some areas.
It got its name because this plague took out not just Roman citizens, but the emperor with it. Marcus Antonius died from this virus, along with another emperor after him.
Unknown (The Peloponnesian War Pestilence)
This one gets a special notice because it is the first pandemic recorded in history.
During the Peloponnesian war (Athens v. Sparta), there was a disease that wiped out one to two-thirds of all Athenians (over 30k people).
Likely the disease came from the war itself, being transmitted by fighting Spartans. Another theory is that it was contracted by their ports, as Athens had maritime ports in use during the war.
Interestingly, this disease did not affect the Spartans. When the Spartans seen the numerous burning pyres, they retreated from the city, hoping to not contract the disease. The Athenians were completely wiped out militarily for over 15 years after this, losing many of their soldiers and even their main general.
The disease has never been identified, because all historical accounts of it are hard to pinpoint. Researchers are torn between Typhus, Typhoid, and some type of viral hemorrhagic fever. Supposedly, it created a wide variety of symptoms—and those that survived did so sometimes without fingers, sight, or genitals.
Learn more about bioterrorism here: Everything Bioterrorism