History of epidemics

26 March 2020
Nikos Katsaros, Head of Human Nutrition & Dietetics Department New York College
History of epidemics

Dedicated to my students BIOC 1011

Since antiquity, millions of people have died from epidemics, viruses and deadly diseases. We made a retrospective and collected the most important diseases that shocked history and killed millions of people around the world.

In the field of infectious diseases, a pandemic is the worst case scenario. When an epidemic spreads across all five continents, the disease becomes officially a pandemic. The following are some of the most characteristic cases in history. Let's see them below.

  • 1981 - HIV / AIDS

First identified in 1981. AIDS destroys a person's immune system. Those infected with HIV are infected with fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes after infection. When symptoms subside, carriers can infect another person through blood and genital fluid. The disease destroys the T-cells. Treatments have been developed to slow the progress of the disease. AIDS is responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide.

  • 1957 - Asian flu

Originating from Hong Kong and spreading across China and then into the United States, Asian flu became widespread in England where, in six months, 14,000 people died. A second wave followed in early 1958, causing a total of about 1.1 million deaths worldwide, with 116,000 deaths in the United States alone. A vaccine was developed that effectively counteracted the pandemic.

  • 1919 - Spanish flu

The bird flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide, is believed to have originated in China and was transmitted by Chinese workers who were transported by rail across Canada to Europe. In North America, the flu first appeared in Kansas in early 1919. Video reports of a flu outbreak in Madrid in the spring of 1918 led to a pandemic called "Spanish flu".

  • 1889 - Russian flu

The first major influenza pandemic began in Siberia and Kazakhstan, traveled to Moscow, went to Finland, and then to Poland, where it was transported to the rest of Europe. By the following year, it had crossed the ocean into North America and Africa. By the end of 1890, 360,000 people had died.

  • 1885 - The third plague pandemic

Starting in China and going to India and Hong Kong, the groin plague killed 15 million people. It was initially spread by fleas during a mine explosion in Yunnan. India tried to deal with the losses and the pandemic was used as an excuse for repressive policies that sparked an uprising against the British.

  • 1817 - First cholera pandemic

The first of the seven cholera pandemics for the next 150 years, killing 1 million people. Transported from water and food contaminated with feces, the bacterium was transferred to British soldiers who brought it to India, where millions of people died. The British Empire and the Navy spread cholera to Spain, Africa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Italy, Germany and the United States, killing 150,000 people. Although the vaccine was created in 1885, the pandemics continued.

  • 1665 - The Great Plague of London

The plague has led to the deaths of 20% of London's population. Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs were slaughtered as a possible cause of the disease that spread through ports across the Thames. The worst outbreak took place in the autumn of 1666, at about the same time as another catastrophic event - the Great Fire of London.

  • 1492 - The Colombian exchange

After the arrival of the Spaniards in the Caribbean, diseases such as smallpox, measles and groin plague were transmitted by Europeans to indigenous populations. These diseases have destroyed indigenous populations, with 90% dying across the northern and southern continents. In 1520, the Aztec empire was destroyed by the variola brought on by African slaves.

  • 11th century - Leprosy

Leprosy developed into a pandemic in Europe during the Middle Ages, resulting in the construction of many hospitals focusing on it to accommodate the huge number of victims. A slow-growing bacterial disease that causes wounds and deformities was considered a punishment by God. Now known as Hansen's disease, it still affects tens of thousands of people each year and can be deadly if not treated with antibiotics.

  • 250 AD – Plague of Cyprianus

It was named after the first known victim, the Christian bishop of Carthage. Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, fever and gangrene in hands and feet.

  • 165 AD - Antonine Plague

The Antonine plague was probably an early manifestation of variola that began with the Huns. The Huns then infested the Germans, who passed it on to the Romans, and then the troops spread it throughout the Roman Empire. One of the victims is said to have been Emperor Marcus Aurelius

  • 430 BC - Athens, Typhoid Fever

The oldest recorded pandemic occurred during the Peloponnesian War. After the disease passed through Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, it crossed the Athenian walls as the Spartans besieged them. At least two-thirds of the population died. Symptoms: fever, thirst, blood in the throat and tongue, red skin and sores. The disease, which was probably a typhoid fever, greatly weakened the Athenians and was a factor in their defeat by the Spartans.


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