Plagues and epidemics have devastated humanity throughout its existence, often changing the course of history.

Comments (9)


An influenza ward in ~ a U.S. Army Camp Hospital in France throughout the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.(Image credit: Shutterstock)
Throughout the course of history, disease outbreaks have ruined humanity, sometimes changing the course of history and, at times, signaling the finish of entire civilizations. Here are 20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics, dating from ancient to modern-day times.

You are watching: History of pandemics in the united states

The discovery of a 5,000-year-old home in China filled through skeletons is proof of a fatal epidemic. (Image credit: photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology)

About 5,000 years ago, one epidemic wiped the end a prehistoric town in China. The body of the dead were stuffed within a house that to be later shed down. No period group to be spared, together the skeletons of juveniles, young adults and also middle-age human being were found inside the house. The historical site is now called "Hamin Mangha" and is one of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in northeastern China. Archaeological and also anthropological study indicates that the epidemic happened quickly enough the there was no time for ideal burials, and the website was not occupied again.

Before the discovery of Hamin Mangha, one more prehistoric mass interment that days to about the same time duration was uncovered at a site referred to as Miaozigou, in northeastern China. Together, these discoveries suggest the an epidemic ravaged the entire region.

Remains that the Parthenon, one of the buildings on the acropolis the Athens. The city experienced a 5 year pandemic roughly 430 B.C. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Around 430 B.C., not lengthy after a war between Athens and Sparta began, an epidemic devastated the people of Athens and lasted for five years. Some approximates put the fatality toll together high as 100,000 people. The Greek chronicler Thucydides (460-400 B.C.) composed that "people in great health were all of a sudden struck by violent heats in the head, and also redness and also inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such together the neck or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting one unnatural and fetid breath" (translation through Richard Crawley native the publication "The history of the Peloponnesian War," London Dent, 1914).

What precisely this epidemic was has actually long to be a resource of debate amongst scientists; a variety of diseases have been placed forward as possibilities, including typhoid fever and Ebola. Numerous scholars think that overcrowding brought about by the war exacerbated the epidemic. Sparta"s army was stronger, forcing the Athenians to take it refuge behind a collection of fortifications referred to as the "long walls" that defended their city. Regardless of the epidemic, the war ongoing on, not ending until 404 B.C., when Athens was forced to capitulate come Sparta.

3. Antonine Plague: A.D. 165-180

Roman soldiers likely brought smallpox residence with them, providing rise to the Antonine Plague. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When soldiers went back to the Roman empire from campaigning, they brought back much more than the spoils the victory. The Antonine Plague, i m sorry may have actually been smallpox, laid waste come the army and also may have killed end 5 million human being in the roman inn empire, created April Pudsey, a senior lecturer in Roman background at Manchester city University, in a paper published in the publication "Disability in Antiquity," Routledge, 2017).

Related: Read a cost-free issue of all About history magazine

Many historians believe that the epidemic was very first brought into the Roman empire by soldiers returning house after a war versus Parthia. The epidemic contributed to the end of the Pax Romana (the roman Peace), a period from 27 B.C. Come A.D. 180, once Rome was at the elevation of the power. After ~ A.D. 180, instability flourished throughout the roman inn Empire, together it experienced much more civil wars and invasions by "barbarian" groups. Christianity ended up being increasingly well-known in the time after the pester occurred.

4. Afflict of Cyprian: A.D. 250-271

The remains found where a bonfire incinerated countless of the victims of an ancient epidemic in the city that Thebes in Egypt. (Image credit: N.Cijan/Associazione Culturale per lo Studio dell"Egitto e del Sudan ONLUS)

Named after ~ St. Cyprian, a bishop the Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who explained the epidemic as signaling the finish of the world, the torment of Cyprian is estimated to have actually killed 5,000 civilization a job in Rome alone. In 2014, excavators in Luxor found what appears to be a mass interment site of plague victims. Your bodies were extended with a special layer of lime (historically provided as a disinfectant). Excavators found three kilns used to manufacture lime and also the remains of plague victims shed in a giant bonfire.

Experts aren"t sure what an illness caused the epidemic. "The bowels, relaxed right into a consistent flux, discharge the bodily strength a fire source in the marrow ferments into wounds that the fauces (an area the the mouth)," Cyprian created in Latin in a work called "De mortalitate" (translation by Philip Schaff from the publication "Fathers of the 3rd Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix," Christian standards Ethereal Library, 1885).

5. Torment of Justinian: A.D. 541-542

A mosaic that Emperor Justinian and his supporters. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The oriental Empire was ruined by the bubonic plague, which significant the begin of the decline. The afflict reoccurred regularly afterward. Some estimates suggest that approximately 10% the the world"s populace died.

The afflict is called after the oriental Emperor Justinian (reigned A.D. 527-565). Under his reign, the oriental Empire got to its greatest extent, controlling territory that stretched from the Middle east to west Europe. Justinian created a an excellent cathedral known as Hagia Sophia ("Holy Wisdom") in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the empire"s capital. Justinian also got sick through the plague and also survived; however, his realm gradually lost territory while after the torment struck.

6. The black color Death: 1346-1353

Illustration native Liber chronicarum, 1. CCLXIIII; Skeletons are climbing from the dead because that the dance of death. (Image credit: Anton Koberger, 1493/Public domain)

The Black death traveled from Asia to Europe, leave devastation in the wake. Some estimates suggest that it wiped the end over half of Europe"s population. That was caused by a stress, overload of the bacterium Yersinia pestis that is likely extinct today and also was spread by fleas ~ above infected rodents. The body of victims were buried in mass graves.

The plague changed the course of Europe"s history. Through so countless dead, labor ended up being harder to find, happen about far better pay because that workers and the end of Europe"s device of serfdom. Studies indicate that surviving workers had better access to meat and higher-quality bread. The lack of cheap labor may also have added to technological innovation.

7. Cocoliztli epidemic: 1545-1548

Aztec Ruins nationwide Monument. (Image credit: USGS)

The epidemic that caused the cocoliztli epidemic was a type of viral hemorrhagic heat that eliminated 15 million residents of Mexico and central America. Among a population already weakened by too much drought, the disease proved to be utterly catastrophic. "Cocoliztli" is the Aztec word for "pest."

A recent study the examined DNA from the skeletons the victims uncovered that they were infected v a subspecies the Salmonella known as S. Paratyphi C, which causes enteric fever, a classification of heat that includes typhoid. Enteric heat can reason high fever, dehydration and also gastrointestinal problems and is quiet a significant health hazard today.

8. American Plagues: 16th century

Painting by O. Graeff (1892) that Hernán Cortéz and also his troops. The Spanish conqueror was able to record Aztec cities left devastated by smallpox. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The American Plagues are a swarm of Eurasian diseases lugged to the americas by european explorers. This illnesses, consisting of smallpox, added to the please of the Inca and Aztec civilizations. Some approximates suggest that 90% that the indigenous population in the western Hemisphere was killed off.

The conditions helped a Spanish force led by Hernán Cortés conquer the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1519 and another Spanish pressure led through Francisco Pizarro overcome the Incas in 1532. The Spanish took over the regions of both empires. In both cases, the Aztec and also Incan armies had been ruined by an illness and to be unable to stand up to the Spanish forces. As soon as citizens the Britain, France, Portugal and the Netherlands started exploring, conquering and also settling the western Hemisphere, castle were also helped by the reality that condition had vastly diminished the size of any kind of indigenous groups that opposed them.

9. Good Plague that London: 1665-1666

A version re-enactment the the 1666 an excellent Fire that London. The fire occured right after the city suffered through a disastrous plague. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The black color Death"s last significant outbreak in an excellent Britain led to a fixed exodus from London, led by King Charles II. The plague started in April 1665 and spread promptly through the warm summer months. Fleas native plague-infected rodents were one of the main causes of transmission. By the time the afflict ended, around 100,000 people, including 15% the the populace of London, had died. Yet this was not the end of the city"s suffering. Top top Sept. 2, 1666, the good Fire the London started, lasting for four days and burning under a large portion that the city.

10. Great Plague that Marseille: 1720-1723

Present day view of Saint Jean Castle and also Cathedral de la significant and the Vieux harbor in Marseille, France. Approximately 30% that the populace of Marseille passed away as a an outcome of a three-year afflict epidemic in the 1720s. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Historical documents say the the great Plague that Marseille started once a ship referred to as Grand-Saint-Antoine docked in Marseille, France, transferring a cargo of items from the east Mediterranean. Back the ship to be quarantined, pester still acquired into the city, likely through fleas on plague-infected rodents.

Plague spread out quickly, and over the next three years, as numerous as 100,000 civilization may have passed away in Marseille and surrounding areas. It"s estimated that up to 30% the the populace of Marseille may have actually perished.

11. Russian plague: 1770-1772

Portrait of Catherine II through Vigilius Erichsen (ca. 1757-1772). Even Catherine the an excellent couldn"t bring Russia back from the devastation led to by the 1770 plague. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

In plague-ravaged Moscow, the terror of quarantined citizens erupted right into violence. Riots spread out through the city and culminated in the murder of Archbishop Ambrosius, that was encouraging crowds not to gather for worship.

The empress of Russia, Catherine II (also referred to as Catherine the Great), was so desperate to save the plague and also restore windy order the she issued a hasty decree ordering that all factories be relocated from Moscow. By the moment the afflict ended, as plenty of as 100,000 human being may have actually died. Even after the torment ended, Catherine struggled to restore order. In 1773, Yemelyan Pugachev, a guy who declared to it is in Peter III (Catherine"s executed husband), led an insurrection that brought about the deaths that thousands more.

12. Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic: 1793

Painting the George Washington"s second inauguration at Congress hall in Philadelphia, march 4, 1793. An epidemic of yellow fever hit Philadelphia tough in the very first half that 1793. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When yellow heat seized Philadelphia, the unified States" capital at the time, public official wrongly thought that slaves were immune. Together a result, abolitionists called for civilization of African origin to be recruited to nurse the sick.

The disease is carried and also transmitted by mosquitoes, which knowledgeable a population boom throughout the an especially hot and also humid summer weather in Philadelphia that year. The wasn"t until winter come — and also the mosquitoes passed away out — that the epidemic ultimately stopped. By then, an ext than 5,000 people had died.

13. Flu pandemic: 1889-1890

Wood engraving showing registered nurses attending to patient in Paris during the 1889-90 flu pandemic. The pandemic eliminated an approximated 1 million people. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

In the modern-day industrial age, brand-new transport links made it less complicated for influenza viruses to wreak havoc. In just a couple of months, the disease spanned the globe, killing 1 million people. It take it just 5 weeks for the epidemic to reach peak mortality.

The earliest cases were report in Russia. The virus spread swiftly throughout St. Petersburg before it conveniently made its method throughout Europe and also the rest of the world, in spite of the truth that air travel didn"t exist yet.

14. American polio epidemic: 1916

Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial in Washington, D.C. Chairman Roosevelt was diagnosed through polio in 1921, at the age of 39. Polio eliminated thousands till the advancement of the Salk vaccine in 1954. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

A polio epidemic that began in new York City resulted in 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths in the united States. The condition mainly affects children and also sometimes pipeline survivors with long-term disabilities.

Polio epidemics arisen sporadically in the United claims until the Salk vaccine was arisen in 1954. As the vaccine came to be widely available, cases in the United states declined. The critical polio instance in the United claims was reported in 1979. Global vaccination initiatives have greatly lessened the disease, although it is not yet totally eradicated.

15. Spanish Flu: 1918-1920

Emergency hospital throughout influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas. (Image credit: Otis historical Archives, national Museum that Health and also Medicine)

An approximated 500 million civilization from the southern Seas to the north Pole fell victim come Spanish Flu. One-fifth that those died, v some indigenous neighborhoods pushed come the brink of extinction. The flu"s spread and also lethality was amplified by the cramped problems of soldiers and also poor wartime nutrition that many world were suffering during human being War I.

Despite the surname Spanish Flu, the disease likely go not begin in Spain. Spain was a neutral nation during the war and also did not enforce strictly censorship of its press, i beg your pardon could as such freely publish beforehand accounts the the illness. As a result, world falsely thought the disease was particular to Spain, and also the name Spanish Flu stuck.

16. Asian Flu: 1957-1958

Chickens being tested because that the avian flu. An outbreak of the avian flu killed 1 million world in the so late 1950s. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The asian Flu pandemic was another worldwide showing because that influenza. V its root in China, the disease claimed more than 1 million lives. The virus that led to the pandemic was a mix of avian flu viruses.

The Centers for an illness Control and Prevention notes the the disease spread rapidly and was report in Singapore in February 1957, Hong Kong in April 1957, and the coastal cities that the United says in the summer the 1957. The complete death toll fee was an ext than 1.1 million worldwide, with 116,000 deaths developing in the joined States.

17. AIDS pandemic and epidemic: 1981-present day

AIDS ended up being a worldwide pandemic in the 1980s and continues together an epidemic in details parts that the world.(Image credit: Mario Suriani/Associated Press, via the brand-new York historical Society)

AIDS has claimed an estimated 35 million lives due to the fact that it was first identified. HIV, which is the virus that reasons AIDS, likely arisen from a chimpanzee virus that moved to people in West Africa in the 1920s. The virus make its way around the world, and AIDS to be a pandemic by the late 20th century. Now, around 64% the the approximated 40 million life with person immunodeficiency virus (HIV) live in sub-Saharan Africa.

For decades, the an illness had no recognized cure, however medication arisen in the 1990s now permits people with the disease to endure a typical life expectations with constant treatment. Even more encouraging, two world have to be cured that HIV together of early on 2020.

18. H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic: 2009-2010

A nurse walking by a triage tent set up outside of the emergency room at Sutter Delta Medical center in Antioch, California ~ above April 30, 2009. The hospital was preparing because that a potential flood of patients concerned they can have swine flu. (Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The 2009 swine flu pandemic was resulted in by a brand-new strain the H1N1 that originated in Mexico in the feather of 2009 prior to spreading to the remainder of the world. In one year, the virus infected as plenty of as 1.4 exchange rate people throughout the globe and also killed in between 151,700 and also 575,400 people, follow to the CDC.

The 2009 flu pandemic primarily influenced children and young adults, and 80% the the deaths to be in people younger 보다 65, the CDC reported. That was unusual, considering that most strains of flu viruses, consisting of those that reason seasonal flu, cause the greatest percentage of deaths in civilization ages 65 and older. However in the case of the swine flu, older world seemed to have actually already built up enough immune to the team of viruses the H1N1 belong to, for this reason weren"t impacted as much. A vaccine because that the H1N1 virus that brought about the swine flu is now had in the yearly flu vaccine.

Related: How walk the COVID-19 pandemic to compare to the last pandemic?

19. West afri Ebola epidemic: 2014-2016

Health treatment workers put on safety gear prior to entering one Ebola treatment unit in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. (Image credit: CDC/Sally Ezra/Athalia Christie (Public Domain))

Ebola ruined West Africa between 2014 and also 2016, through 28,600 report cases and also 11,325 deaths. The first case to it is in reported remained in Guinea in December 2013, climate the an illness quickly spread to Liberia and also Sierra Leone. The mass of the cases and also deaths arisen in those 3 countries. A smaller number of cases arisen in Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, the unified States and also Europe, the Centers for disease Control and also Prevention reported.

There is no cure for Ebola, although efforts at detect a vaccine are ongoing. The first known instances of Ebola occurred in Sudan and also the democratic Republic the Congo in 1976, and also the virus may have actually originated in bats.

20. Zika Virus epidemic: 2015-present day

A worker sprays pesticide to death mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. Zika is most prevalent in the tropics. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The influence of the current Zika epidemic in south America and central America won"t be known for numerous years. In the meantime, scientists confront a race versus time to lug the virus under control. The Zika virus is usually spread through mosquitoes that the Aedes genus, although it can likewise be sexuallytransfer in humans.

See more: How Did Paul Die In The Bible, Why And How Did Paul The Apostle Die

While Zika is commonly not harmful to adult or children, that can assault infants who space still in the womb and cause birth defects. The type of mosquitoes that carry Zika flourish finest in warm, humid climates, making southern America, central America and also parts the the southern United claims prime areas for the virus to flourish.