In late December 2019, our world was introduced to a novel coronavirus pathogen known as SARS-CoV-2. A couple of months later, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic that had spread across several countries and affected an alarmingly large number of people.
Today, as we continue to deal with the outbreak, let us take a closer look at the 5 pandemics from the past that were far deadlier than COVID-19:
- The Black Death
Sometimes dubbed as the ‘Bubonic Plague’, or even ‘The Plague of All Plagues’, the Black Death hit Europe somewhere in 1347 and managed to claim an estimated 200 million lives in just four years. Since people at that time had no scientific understanding of contagion, they did not know how to stop the spread of this horrible disease. As a consequence, it raged through Europe, Asia and even some parts of Africa, killing indiscriminately and causing unfathomable devastation.
Although smallpox was endemic to Europe, Asia and Arabia for centuries on end, the death rate associated with it at that time was not very alarming. However, this death rate skyrocketed once the indegenous people of modern-day US and Mexico were introduced to the virus by European explorers. Eventually, almost 90-95% of the indegenous population was wiped out by smallpox. Thankfully, in 1980, WHO announced that this terrible disease had been completely eradicated from the face of the Earth.
- Spanish Flu
Around 90 years before the ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic of 2009 killed over 200,000 people, a deadlier form of influenza was making its presence felt around the world. The dreaded Spanish Flu was an influenza pandemic that managed to affect nearly 500 million people around the world from 1918 to 1919. Inside one year, the Spanish Flu claimed an astonishing 40-50 million lives.
Most of us are well aware of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the debilitating disease it causes – AIDS. First discovered in the early 1980s, AIDS is thought to have developed from a chimpanzee virus present in Africa since the 1920s. Since the start of this epidemic, which still continues to plague our world today, more than 36 million people have lost their lives to various AIDS-related illnesses.
- The Plague of Justinian
The Plague of Justinian was an epidemic that affected the Old World, especially afflicting the Byzantine empire and its capital, Constantinople. Since this plague originated way back in 541 AD, not much is known about it. However, historians do believe that it caused an estimated 25-50 million deaths, spanning nearly two centuries of its recurrences.
History lays testament to the fact that when civilizations flourished, so did infectious diseases. In the past, inadequate medical knowledge, along with bad living conditions, provided a very fertile breeding ground for diseases. Although modern society is armed with much better measures and treatments against pandemics today, we should still learn from our past and make every effort to lead healthy and wholesome lives.