10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

With the advent of modern medical technology and discoveries, people's life expectancy have raised dramatically all around the world within the few decades. But looking back to the human history health sector has bitter story to tell. It's hard to believe the deadly figures of death tolls caused by a single disease for anyone living in this 21st century. Here we have included the all time list of 10 deadliest epidemics in human history. Most of them are now curable or if not so can be controlled with effective medical procedures.

1. Polio

10 deadliest epidemics all around the world

Poliomyletis commonly referred as polio is an infectious disease caused by polio virus that infects human nervous system. The infection with this disease leads to paralysis of body and majority of cases includes paralysis of leg. The polio epidemic outbreak in 1952 in United States reported nearly 58,000 cases of victims. Of these cases, about 3,145 were reported dead and 21,269 remained with mild to disabling paralysis. The disease is now curable with polio vaccine however a number of doses are required for its effectiveness. The cases of polio infection decreased drastically with 350,000 cases in 1988 to 416 cases in 2013. In 2014 the disease was spreading in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan only. In 2015 Nigeria had succeeded in stopping the spread of this virus.

2. Epidemic Typhus/Camp Fever

10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

Epidemic typhus also called camp fever, hospital fever, jail fever etc.. caused by micro organism Rickettsia prowazekii. The name so given comes from the fact that the disease tends to follow wars, famine and natural disaster. The vector organism for this disease is a human body louse. Common symptoms include severe headache, high fever, sweating, fall in blood presure, severe muscle pain and finally death. From 1918 and 1922 the disease resulted in the death of nearly 3 million people out of 20-30 million cases reported. During World War I this disease was the only reason for the death of about 3 million people from Russia and more from Romania and Poland. Infamous pictures have been shot showing thousands of typhus victims in mass grave in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Now the disease can be treated with antibiotics and vaccination.


It is a spectrum of condition caused by the infection with human immunodeficiency virus(HIV). As the disease progresses with time the victims immune system begins to deteriorate making him/her more susceptible to common infections like tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid etc. Since its discovery 1981 to till now it has caused an estimated death of 36 million people world wide. The virus is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, contact with victim's bodily fluid and from mother to child during pregnancy. It is still incurable though highly active antiretroviral therapy(HAART) is available which slows the progression of disease extending the life of victim by upto 10 years.

4. Malaria

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasitic protozoans from genus group plasmodium. The most common vector of this disease is a female Anopheles mosquito. The common symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and fatigues. In 2012, a total of 207 million people were found to be infected by malaria of which approximately 473,000 to 789,000 people died and majority of this figure included children in Africa. Around 85-90% of malaria fatalities occurring at present are from parts of America, Asia and much of Africa lying in the broad band of equator. Today the disease is treated with various antimalarial medications depending upon the type and severity of the disease.

5. Cholera

Cholera is the infection of small intestine by the microorganism called Vibrio cholerae. The common symptoms include sever diarrhea, muscle cramps, fatigue and vomiting. In fact diarrhoea can be so severe that within hours victim's body can become severely dehydrated with electrolyte imbalance. The major cause of transmission is due to faecal contamination of food and water and poor sanitation. The disease first spread in India starting in 1817 through 1824. Its widespread throughout the world during 19th century caused death of tens of millions of people. As of 2010, cholera affects an estimated 3-5 million people and causes death of 58,000–130,000 people a year. The disease is curable through various antibiotics but oral rehydration therapy is considered as better alternative as many of cases has been reported showing resistance against the effectiveness of antibiotics.

6. Smallpox

Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by two virus variants namely Variola major and Variola minor. The characteristic symptoms include the appearance of maculopapular rash in the skin which latter converts to raised fluid filled blister. Smallpox is believed to be encountered in human population since 10,000 BC. About 400,000 Europeans were killed by this disease during the late 18th century. It was responsible for the death of 300–500 million people during 20th century. After the worldwide vaccination program launched during 19th and 20th century WHO certified its global eradication in 1979.

7. Yellow fever/Yellow plague

10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

The disease is caused by the infection of RNA virus belonging to the genus Flavivirus commonly transmitted by female mosquito. The distinct name 'Yellow fever' comes from the characteristic symptoms of skin turning yellow due to damage of victim's liver. Study shows yellow fever causes 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths each year. 90% of these cases occurs only in Africa. During 18th and 19th century the disease was considered as one of the most dangerous infectious diseases. Till now no effective cure is available as for other Flavivirus although a symptomatic treatment like rehydration and pain relief with drugs such as paracetamol is advised along with intensive care.

8. The Black Death

It is one of the most devastating pandemic in human history. It caused the death of around 75 to 200 million people in Europe alone from the year 1346 to 1353. Research of the DNA of victims from northern and southern Europe shows that the epidemics was caused by the pathogen named Yersinia pestis bacterium. In 14th century the plague reduced the world population from 450 million down to 350–375 million. The most commonly reported symptoms of the plague was the appearance of gavocciolos in the groin, neck and armpit.

9. The Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918

10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

It is one of the deadly influenza pandemics in human history infecting nearly 500 million people and killing 50 to 100 million people from all around the world ( almost 3-5% of world's population at that time ). In contrast to other influenza outbreaks, the victims of this epidemic was mostly healthy young adults. The reason behind it was the strong immune reaction of young victims ravaging their body.

10. Tuberculosis (TB)

10 Deadliest Epidemics in Human History

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a microbateria named mycobacteria generally infecting lungs of its victim.The disease is transmitted through air contaminated by the fluids from the victim ejected during sneezing and coughing. The distinctive symptoms include chronic cough, blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweat and loss in body weight. Till now around one third of the world's population is thought to have been infected with this disease and occurs in about 1% of world's population each year. In 2013, 1.3 to 1.5 million deaths were recorded which were associated with TB and majority of the cases were from developing countries. Most people from developing countries have been found to contract with this disease due to poor immune system from the infection with HIV. Treatment of TB is difficult and requires use of multiple drug for long period of time along with intensive screening and care. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem related with antibiotic resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).


So, these are the all time list of most deadly epidemics in human history. Epidemics outbreak has always been a war-zone for medical science. Throughout these outbreaks medical science has struggled to fight back these disease and has succeeded in some cases while in other cases it is still struggling.

Please let us know, if you find this list in any way useful and interesting. Also if there is any topic that you'd like to be covered in our website then you are warm welcomed to forward us anytime.

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