With the times we’re living in right now, it’s no surprise we’re looking for ways to figure out whether pandemics like this have happened before, how we’re going to get through it, and just generally trying to think about how this is the new normal.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that after many, many pandemics, humanity has continued to step forward.
But it makes you wonder, what’s the worst pandemic that humans have went through, and how close have we came to extinction because of them?
Here is the list of the Top 10 Deadliest Pandemics In Human History! It should also be noted that we organized our list by the percentage of the human race these pandemics killed at the time, not by body count.
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Top 10 Deadliest Pandemics In Human History
10. Plague of Athens – 100,000 (0.1%)
Throwing it way back to 430 B.C. we’re in the aftermath of the war between Athens and Sparta, the countries were just getting back to their normal life when they were hit with a 5-year plague.
The world population of these times was estimated to be about 100 million people, so, given that about 100,000 people died from the Plague of Athens, this was a pretty big death toll by killing roughly 0.1% of the entire world.
The symptoms included, according to a particularly decorative writer and historian, Thucydides, “violent heats in the head.
And redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and fetid breath.”
9. Plague of Cyprian 1 Million (0.53%)
The Plague of Cyprian was a pandemic that afflicted the Roman Empire from 249 to about262 AD.
During the height of the outbreak, an estimated 5,000 people were dying each day. The exact number is still unknown, but sources say “at least” 1 million people lost their lives.
The agent of the plague is also still unknown because of sparse sourcing, but most historians believe it to be either from smallpox, pandemic influenza, or viral hemorrhagic fever.
Although Rome would later fall about 200 years later in 476 AD, this plague nearly did them in, during what is known as the “Crisis of the Third Century”.
When the Roman Empire nearly collapsed from barbarian invasions, migrations, civil wars, peasant rebellions, political instability, economic depression, and debasement of the currency.
In the end, of the 190 million people alive at the time, 1 million lost their lives to the plague, giving it a total death rate of0.53% of the world population, or 1 out of every 190 people.
8. The HIV/AIDS Pandemic – 36 Million (0.6%)
First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, HIV/AIDS has been an ongoing pandemic ever since, killing more than 36 million people since 1981 – between 1 and 2 million people annually.
Currently, there are between 31 and 35 million people living with HIV, the vast majority of those are 21 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 5% of the population is infected.
Although HIV/AIDS is a slow killer, it’s still pretty much a guaranteed death sentence to those who have it, especially to those who go untreated.
Thanks to modern medicine, many people go on to live rather productive lives, but there is still no known cure – at least, released to the public.
Since the world population has changed from 4.1 billion to 7.8 billion people since 1976, it’s hard to measure what percentage of the world this pandemic has killed.
But if we take the median number of 5.95 billion, then 36 million people equate to about 0.6% of the entire world or about 1 out of every 160 people.
7. Third Plague Pandemic – 12 Million (1%)
In 1855, a third, and for now, the final bubonic deadliest pandemics in human history that began in Yunnan, China, spread to all inhabited continents.
It was the weakest outbreak of the three, but it still killed more than 12 million people, 10 million of which were in India alone.
These deadliest pandemics remained active until 1960 when worldwide casualties dropped to less than 200 per year.
But the vast majority of the deaths were within a few years of the first reported case.
Given the population of 1.2 billion in the 1850s and killing 12 million people, this pandemic outbreak killed an estimated 1% of the entire world, or 1 out of every 100 people.
6. The Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 – 50 million (2.77%)
The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin.
It spread worldwide during 1918-1919, and there is not a universal consensus regarding where the virus originated.
In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918.
It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus and had a death rate of about 10%.
The world population was roughly 1.8 billion people in 1918, while an estimated 50 million people died, meaning the deadliest pandemics killed 2.77% of the entire world population, or about 3 out of every 100 people.
5. Antonine Plague – 5 Million (2-3%)
Another soldier-induced plague. Is this a sign? Should we stop getting into wars and prevent back-to-back high death tolls?
In this case, the Roman Empire, circa 165and 180 A.D, was campaigning and came back with the disease.
Some think the soldiers brought it home after a war with Parthia. The plague ended the long Roman Peace period during which Rome was at its peak.
After the disaster, people turned to Christianity for solace and it became increasingly popular among the Roman people.
Given that there were about 180 million people alive in this time period, 5 million people would account for about 2.78% of the entire world population or about 3 out of every 100 people.
4. Cocoliztli Epidemic – 15 Million (3.2%)
Between the years 1545 and 1548 A.D, this infection caused the cocoliztli epidemic, a form of viral hemorrhagic fever that killed 15 million inhabitants of Mexico and Central America.
The population was already weakened by extreme drought, so the disease proved to be utterly catastrophic.
“Cocoliztli” is the Aztec word for “pest.”A recent study examined DNA from the skeletons of victims.
And found that they were infected with a subspecies of Salmonella known as S.paratyphi C, which causes enteric fever, a category of fever that includes typhoid.
15 million people ultimately died during a time where the world population was roughly 460 million people, giving a worldwide death toll of about 3.2%, or again, about 3 out of every 100 people.
3. The Justinian Plague – 19-50 Million (10-25%)
This plague marked the end of the byzantine empire. This was another case during which about 10%-25% of the world population died, in just 1 year in fact, between 541 and 542 AD.
The actual death count is still uncertain, but estimates compared to the world population at the time sets the number between 19 and 50 million people.
The plague was named after Emperor Justinian who reigned from A.D. 527 to 565 with lots of success, spreading to the Middle East and western Europe from the Mediterranean.
Even Justinian himself contracted the plague but survived. However, it was the perfect time for others to take their territory back and take advantage of the empire’s weakness, which they certainly did.
Researchers speculate the plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which often lead to necrosis in its victims.
2. Smallpox – 500 Million (17.9%)
When we think of a pandemic, we think of a virus or disease that comes and goes rather quickly – but smallpox coexisted with humans for a very long time.
Its biggest outbreak, though, lasted for roughly 100 years, between the years of 1877 to 1977, when it was eradicated, but not before killing more than 500 million people.
Smallpox seemed to be a disease that wouldn’t quit. It rode along on explorations, boat rides, and it killed 30% of the people it infected.
If you didn’t die, you were left with scars to prove that you’d had it. The European spread, though, is nothing compared to the impact it had in the Americas when the first European explorers made their way over.
Indigenous people in Mexico and The US had never experienced something like this and without herd immunity built up.
The deadliest virus ravaged their population, slicing their numbers by 90-95% in 100 years.
Like HIV/AIDS, it’s hard to measure what percentage of the world this pandemic has killed, but if we take the world population of 1.4 billion in 1877 and 4.2 billion in 1977.
And get the median number of 2.8 billion, then 500 million people equate to about 17.9% of the entire world or about 1 out of every 5 people.
1. The Original Black Death – 125 Million (26.3%)
The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence and the Plague, was the most fatal pandemics recorded in human history.
Resulting in the deaths of up to 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe between the years of 1347 to 1351.
The plague is caused by the bacterium yersinia pestis, which can cause septicaemic and pneumonic plagues, but most commonly results in bubonic plague.
This was the 2nd plague pandemic recorded, after the Plague of Justinian. It was easily spread not by rodents, but by fleas on those rodents.
It’s estimated that the plague killed between 30-60% of Europe’s population, and brought the world population down from 475 million to 350 million people.(deadliest pandemics)
Meaning, it killed an estimated 26.3% of the entire world population, or 1 out of every 4 people.