Greatest Pandemics in Last 100 Years

Contagious diseases spread like wildfire and can kill millions of people.  The most well-known pandemic was probably Bubonic Plague or Black Death. The Black Plague ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia from 1346-1353. It is estimated to have killed anywhere from 75 to 200 million people. Infected fleas traveled on the backs of rats stowed away on merchant ships. Port towns were the perfect breeding ground for disease as densely populated urban areas.

Influenza or the flu is most common killer as far as contagious diseases are concerned. According to the Center for Disease Control, the flu kills around 36 thousand people in the United States each year. Most deaths are caused by complications from the flu. Children under 2 years old and adults over 65 years old are the most vulnerable to the virus.

Thousands die every year from the flu, however, it is only considered a pandemic if the disease spreads across a wide geographical location, such as a continent. The disease must also affect an especially high proportion of the population to be considered a pandemic.

Sixth Cholera Pandemic (1910-1911) 

Cholera Pandemic has occurred several times, hence the name Sixth Cholera Pandemic. Cholera is caused by drinking contaminated water. It causes severe watery diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if left untreated.

This pandemic started in India and spread to the Middle East, Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, and Russia. The disease spread to the United States. Thanks to quarantines and fast-acting medical professionals only 11 people died in the USA. This was the last Cholera outbreak in the United States. Cholera outbreaks still occur in India.

Spanish Flu (1918)

The 1918 Pandemic or Spanish Flu killed 50 to 100 million people. It is unclear where this disease originated, possibly China, but maybe the United States. Thanks to World War I and global trade it quickly spread around the world infecting one-third of the world’s population. The mortality rate was 10 to 20 percent, with 25 million people dead in the first 25 weeks. Unlike other stains the flu, this variant took the lives of young and healthy individuals instead of young children or elderly adults.

Doctors recommend getting a flu shot every year because influenza mutates and changes each year. Your body builds up and immunity to the flu when exposed to illness or the flu vaccine. Your body is able to recognize small changes to the influenza virus and fight the disease off. Major changes to the disease won’t be recognized and could be fatal. This was the problem with the 1918 outbreak. The population had not been exposed to this new variant (H1N1) and were vulnerable.

Asian Flu (1956-1958)

The Asian Flu was a shift in the influenza virus (H2N2). Major shifts in the influenza virus leave the population vulnerable because they do not have natural antibodies for this new stain. It started in China and spread to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States. It is estimated the Asian Flu killed 2 million people, 69 thousand in the USA alone.

Flu Pandemic (1968)

The Hong Kong Flu or Flu Pandemic of 1968 was yet another shift in the influenza virus (H3N2). Again the major shift in the virus left people vulnerable, with no natural antibodies to fight off the disease. It spread from Hong Kong to Singapore, Vietnam, The Philippines, India, Austraila, Europe, and the United States of America. The Flu Pandemic claimed the lives of more than 1 million people, including 500 thousand individuals from Hong Kong, 15 percent of the population at the time.

HIV/AIDS Pandemic (2005-2012)

HIV and AIDS were first discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976. Since then it has spread worldwide killing 36 million people. There are currently 31 to 35 million people living with HIV. Most live in Sub-Sharan Africa where 5 percent of the population is infected. Awareness and new treatments have greatly reduced the spread and increased life expectancies.