The deadliest outbreak in the world in history        

A plague so devastating that simply saying “The Plague” will immediately pull it to the front of your mind, in the middle of the 14th century—from 1347 to 1351—the Black Death remade the landscape of Europe and the world.

In a time when the global population was an estimated 450 million, at least 75 million are believed to have perished throughout the pandemic, with some estimates as high as 200 million. As much as half of Europe may have died in a span of only four years.

As much as half of Europe may have died in a span of only four years. The plague’s name comes from the black skin spots on the sailors who travelled the Silk Road and docked in a Sicilian port, bringing with them from their Asian voyage the devastating disease, now known to be bubonic plague.

In the year 541, rats on Egyptian grain boats brought a pestilence to the Eastern Roman Empire that would ultimately leave approximately 25 million people dead. The Plague of Justinian quickly tore through the empire. Even the emperor himself—Justinian I, for whom the plague was named—contracted the disease.

There’s no one outbreak of cholera to point to that’s on the level of any of the above five pandemics. However, since first spreading from Calcutta along the Ganges Delta in 1817, it has killed millions.

The World Health Organization estimates that each year that passes sees between 3 and 5 million new cholera cases, killing as many as 120,000 people. Untreated, it can kill in a matter of hours.

Approximately 90 years before the 2009 swine flu pandemic killed more than 200,000 people, reports of an especially dangerous form of influenza began to appear around the world. Kansas was the site of the first U.S. case, in March 1918. Appearing in multiple countries around the world, the disease spread quickly, ushered along even faster due to the close living quarters of troops fighting in World War I.

Cholera is also notable for the role a specific outbreak played in the development of modern epidemiology. English physician John Snow published his “On the Mode of Communication of Cholera” in 1849, updating it in 1855 with lessons he’d learned the year before.

During the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London, Snow had—based on his theory that cholera was transmitted by exposure to contaminated water—used extensive interviews and intricately plotted maps to trace the source of the outbreak to a single water pump. Disabling the pump ended the outbreak almost immediately, in a poignant example of an early, effective public health intervention.

The Great Flu Epidemic has been recorded as the most devastating epidemic in history. With a death toll of somewhere between 20 million and 40 million, this disease killed more people than WWI.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is a rare and deadly disease in people and nonhuman primates. The viruses that cause EVD are located mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. People can get EVD through direct contact with an infected animal (bat or nonhuman primate) or a sick or dead person infected with Ebola virus.

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