2020 just started and the world has never seen a rougher start in recent years. Just when the world thought we would enter a world war three after the attack from the USA on Iran, January broke out a new pandemic that has the entire world on high alert, the Wuhan Pneumonia, or better known now as Novel Coronavirus. Until the date of writing this article, there are already more than 40000 infected patients around the world, most of the infected concentrated in China, the origin of the outbreak. It is devastating as the world scientists are working around the clock to contain the virus and work on a vaccine, but the world has seen much worse pandemic than the Novel Coronavirus. These are some of the most devastating pandemics that the world has ever seen.
It is a miracle that we survived those.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
Let us take a breather first before we talk about the big guns, and this is the most recent one that got everyone on earth to be more aware of epidemics in the 21st century, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. This highly infectious viral respiratory disease first broke out in November 2003 and ended roughly around July 2004, infected more than 8000 people and killed almost 800 of them, making the death rate almost 10%. There are several things that are scary about SARS, one of which is that it infects healthy and strong people, making our own immune system to attack ourselves, otherwise known as a cytokine storm, and eventually our death. This means that the healthier you are, the easier you will be infected. At the same time, it is highly infectious among the weak, so once your immune system is weakened, it will spread to the elderly and children around you.
If you thought that is the scariest thing about SARS, the next one should cripple you. There were no vaccines developed that are effective against SARS as of 2020, and how did the SARS epidemic end? It simply disappears, like many other virus outbreaks in the past.
The silver lining about this is that the SARS virus is also a strain of coronavirus, which is also the same kind as the novel coronavirus. With SARS, the world is more prepared against the novel coronavirus, although we still have to make sure to be on our toe on preventive measures.
2) The Spanish Flu
Now, the big ones are coming. First, we have the Spanish Flu, or also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic. This is the first H1N1 virus pandemic, the second influenza pandemic happened in 2009. The Spanish Flu first reported in January of 1918, close to the end of world war one. This virus infected around 500 million people around the world, roughly around 27% of the world’s population of the time. The death toll was estimated at around 50 million, or even 100 million at the high end of estimation. It has infected people from all over the globe, even in remote places like the Pacific Islands and the Arctic. The pandemic finally ended roughly around December of 1920, depends on the region. Similar to the previously mentioned SARS, there was no known treatment or vaccine for the Spanish Flu, because it simply disappears after the second death wave. There was theory suggested that the virus mutated into a less deadly strain, but there is not enough data to back that up. Still, thinking that the novel coronavirus is scary?
3) The Third Plague
One of the most devastating pandemics in history is the bubonic plague pandemic, and the third one is one of the worst among them. It began in 1855, in Yunnan China, during the Qing Dynasty. This plague spread throughout all continents and infected millions of people. It is unclear of the exact number of infected patients, but the recorded death toll was more than 12 million in China and India, as the plague is largely confined in the Asia region. The main carrier of this plague was fleas and rats, while they were transported around trade routes on both land and sea, bringing the plague across the globe and infected many people, similar to the two predecessors of the bubonic plague pandemic, which we will talk about in the next one. Fortunately, according to the World Health Organization, the plague was active until 1960, and we have effective medicine to treat this virus now.
4) The Cocoliztli Epidemic
This is a bit of a rarely mentioned epidemic, but it also claimed millions of lives between 1545 and 1548 in Mexico. There were a few more Cocoliztli outbreak throughout history, but one of the worst happened in 1545. This disease was highly infectious and very deadly, infected patients generally died two to four days after infection, and it was a very graphical and horrible way to go. In a span of four years, it had taken around 5 million to 10 million lives. Luckily for the rest of the world, this epidemic was contained in Mexico. If it were to be spread out with the trade ships, there will be even more deaths around the globe.
5) The Black Death
This is the biggest gun among all big guns, the worst pandemic ever hit humanity, the infamous Black Death, and some called it the black plague. This plague is the second outbreak of the bubonic plague, along with a combination of other forms of plague, making it one of the deadliest pandemic. It is thought to have originated in Central Asia and East Asia in 1346, peaked in Europe from 1347 to 1351. The Silk Road is believed to be the main transportation route of this plague. According to Norwegian historian, Ole Benedictow, the death rate could be as high as 60% of the entire European continent. Although there are no exact numbers, that means the Black Death killed 75 million to 200 million people in Europe, making it the deadliest pandemic in history.
Like many pandemics mentioned in this list, there was no cure to Black Death, it simply disappeared and scientists are still baffled at the disappearance.
The only positive outcome of Black Death was it caused a huge religious, social and economic upheaval, some historians even believe that the Black Death jump-start the scientific research field and reduce the influence of religion in scientific practice.
We are not in the clear yet
There are still many diseases in the world that can cause a pandemic, this list simply mentions some of the deadliest one in history, and we survived through those. This novel coronavirus may not be the one to ultimately end us, we should still practice good personal hygiene and make sure we exercise enough to maintain the strong immune system. At the time of writing this article, there are already more than 40000 infected people of the novel coronavirus, but it is still well contained in each region.
Let us work hard and work smart, show more care for people around us, in the midst of a virus outbreak.