The coronavirus pandemic has so far infected 3.1 million people worldwide, and killed at least 217,000 people. The virus that originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has reached almost every country on the planet. It’s too early to say how many lives the COVID-19 pandemic would claim before the nightmare is over. We also don’t know which place it would eventually occupy among the deadliest pandemics in history.
Ranked: Deadliest pandemics of all time
Humanity has survived numerous pandemic outbreaks throughout history. A pandemic is when a disease spreads across continents. Some of them have wiped out a huge chunk of the world’s population. These are the ten deadliest pandemics humanity has ever seen. The ranking is based on the estimated number of deaths.
10- Third Cholera (1852)
The world has survived seven cholera pandemics, and the third one that occurred in 1852 was the deadliest of them all. It originated in India in 1852 and quickly spread across Asia, Europe, Africa, and even North America. By 1860, it had claimed more than one million lives worldwide. After intensive study, British physician Dr. John Snow found in 1854 that cholera was spreading via contaminated water.
9- Hong Kong Flu (1968)
The Hong Kong flu pandemic that began in 1968 was caused by the H3N2 strain of the Influenza A virus. The new strain reportedly evolved from a previous flu outbreak of 1957. In just 17 days after Hong Kong reported the first case, the virus had reached Vietnam, Singapore, and other countries. It had spread to India, Europe, the US, Australia, and other regions in just three months. The Hong Kong flu killed more than one million people.
8- Russian Flu (1889-1890)
Believed to be caused by the H2N2 strain of Influenza, this outbreak began in the Russian Empire in 1889. Thanks to the advent of modern transport infrastructure, it quickly spread to the Northern Hemisphere. It was the first true pandemic in the era of bacteriology. The Russian flu is estimated to have killed more than one million people.
7- Asian Flu (1957)
The Asian flu was caused by H2N2 avian strain of Influenza A virus. It originated in China and lasted a couple of years. The Asian flu traveled from Guizhou province of China to Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and other countries. According to the World Health Organization, the Asian flu killed approximately 2 million people worldwide.
6- Antonine Plague (165-180 AD)
The Antonine plague – also called the Plague of Galen – killed a staggering five million people in the Roman Empire nearly 2,000 years ago. According to experts, it was either measles or smallpox brought to Rome by soldiers returning from Mesopotamia. Unknowingly, they brought a disease that almost decimated the Roman army.
5- Third Plague (1855)
The third plague was a bubonic plague pandemic that originated in the Yunnan province of China in 1855. It was said to have been caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria. According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic was active until 1960. It is estimated to have killed 12 million people worldwide, about 10 million of them in India alone.
4- Plague of Justinian (541-542 AD)
The plague of Justinian was the first bubonic plague outbreak, occurring in 541-542 AD. It is still among the deadliest pandemics of all time. The pandemic hit the Byzantine Empire and the surrounding cities. It spread rapidly due to a vast number of unclean ships reaching the ports. It is estimated to have killed 30-50 million people at a time when the entire Europe’s popular was under 100 million.
3- HIV/AIDS (2005-2012)
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was first identified in Congo in 1976. Though it had killed thousands of people in Africa, it didn’t become a pandemic until 2005. The sexually transmitted virus peaked between 2005 and 2012, killing an estimated 36 million people worldwide. It is still one of the biggest killers in the world.
2- Spanish Flu (1918)
The current coronavirus pandemic is being frequently compared to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. The Spanish flu was one of the deadliest outbreaks of all time. Caused by the H1N1 Influenza virus, it infected about 500 million people and killed more than 50 million across Europe and many other countries. Between January 1918 and December 1920, it infected nearly 40% of the world’s entire population.
1- Black Death (1346-1353)
With more than 200 million deaths, the Black Death remains by far the deadliest pandemic in recorded history. It was a bubonic plague that originated in Asia and traveled across the globe on merchant ships infested with black rats. The Black Death changed the demographies of Asia, Africa, and Europe between 1346 and 1353. Ports were major urban centers at the time, which allowed the black rats and fleas and the bacteria to thrive.