Deadliest Disease Epidemics in Modern History

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As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout China–with an ever-increasing death toll now estimated to be over 1,000 victims–we were curious about other plagues and pandemics that rocked the modern world. Here are the deadliest outbreaks of the last century.

HIV/AIDS (1976-Now)

First emerging in Africa in 1976, HIV/AIDS spread across the globe and killed at least 36 million people. The disease is still incurable, but new treatments and increased awareness have made prevention and management of symptoms easier. However, about 5% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa currently lives with the disease.

Spanish Flu (1918-1920)

Okay, technically we have to cheat a little bit and go back to 1918 to catch the beginning of the influenza outbreak that would leave up to 50 million people dead. As World War I drew to a close, it’s estimated that a third of the world’s population contracted this deadly strain of influenza. It killed indiscriminately, with 675,000 deaths in America alone.

Ebola (2014-2016)

Ebola was discovered in 1976 (a banner year for horrible diseases, apparently), but the worst outbreak in recent memory happened between 2014 and 2016 in West Africa. The World Health Organization pinpointed the first case to a baby boy who had become infected with the deadly disease after encountering a bat.

The outbreak spread beyond West Africa to seven additional countries, including the UK and the US. In Africa, the death toll reached over 11,000–nearly half of all those infected with the hemorrhagic fever died.

SARS (2003)

It wasn’t that long ago that China faced another pandemic. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) swept outward from Guangdong Province–a center of manufacturing and international trade–to infect thousands of people across 37 countries. Roughly 10% of infected patients passed away.

The Chinese government faced strong criticism for its handling of the outbreak, with accusations that they deliberately suppressed information in an attempt to contain potential panic–and consequently allowed the virus to spread instead.

Swine Flu (2009)

Also known as H1N1, the swine flu epidemic of 2009 began in the United States and eventually infected 60 million people. The CDC reported more than 12,000 deaths in the US and a total of more than 575,000 across the globe.

H1N1 continues to infect new patients as a seasonal flu virus–so make sure to get your flu shot every year!