The Worst Pandemics and Outbreaks in History

The Worst Pandemics and Outbreaks in History

What are the worst pandemics and outbreaks in human history?

  1. Plague of Athens – The plague that ended one of the world’s greatest civilizations.
  2. The Plague of Justinian – An outbreak of disease that caused the deaths of 5,000 people daily.
  3. Spanish Flu – This worldwide pandemic caused the deaths of 75 million people worldwide.
  4. HIV/AIDS – This modern pandemic is still devastating the world’s population, killing millions since its discovery
  5. The Black Death – The most devastating pandemic in the world that resulted in the Renaissance years after.


Over the many years in human history, there have been numerous epidemics that have taken over millions of lives. Some of these epidemics ended civilizations and dynasties, while some have spawned innovations and advancements. A number of them were spread by pests, to which humans responded by improving and refining their pest control and health care capabilities over the years.

Some of the origins of these epidemics remain unclear, but their damage and effects have been documented by various researchers and historians. To give you a brief overview, here are some of the most devastating epidemics in human history:


Plague of Athens (430-427 B.C.E.)

One of the worst things that could happen during wars are losses of life that are not caused by the conflicts and skirmishes, but because of famine or disease. What happened to the ancient city of Athens during this time was the latter. During this period, Athens was at war with the city-state of Sparta. With their strong navy, they believed they would be able to beat the Spartans’ powerful army.

After a string of battles, victory still seemed possible to the Athenians; unfortunately, disease struck them during the worst possible time. It is generally believed that the plague arrived in the ports of Athens, where they receive their food and supplies. The plague devastated the population, which gave the Spartans the upper hand during the rest of the conflict. In the end, Athens lost the war, and their civilization would give way to the Macedonians and the Romans.

The Plague of Justinian

The Plague of Justinian (541-542 C.E.)

The Byzantine Empire was the successor of the fallen Western Roman Empire. During its best years, it was one of the richest empires in the world, and was even able to last longer than the original Roman Empire. Its capital, Constantinople, is considered to be one of the world’s finest trading hubs. During the time of Emperor Justinian, the empire achieved much success, but despite that, he served as a witness to a great calamity.

The plague arrived in the empire during 541 C.E., and during this period, around 5,000 people are dying daily, even the emperor was stricken by the disease (He survived to live until 565 C.E.). The plague was so widespread that it also reached North Europe, the Middle East, and even South Asia.


Spanish Flu (1918-1919)

The first world war happened during the years of 1914 until 1918, it is the second worst conflict in human history, killing millions of civilians and soldiers alike. This was also the war that would set the stage for the Second World War, which proved to be a bloodier and crueller conflict than anyone could have ever imagined.

By the end of the war in 1918, another event that would take millions of lives was about to happen. The Spanish influenza pandemic was a more devastating version of the flu, which turned their victims’ skins blue (and eventually black), and drown their lungs with fluid. The pandemic spread throughout Europe and the United States, and killed over 50 million worldwide. After the end of the pandemic in 1919, the world has seen so many changes that would set the stage for the rest of the 20th century.


HIV/AIDS (1987-present)

A pandemic that is still going on until today, it has already killed almost 30 million people around the world since its discovery in Africa. Despite the many advancements in modern medicine, this is one of the diseases that has still been deemed as incurable. The disease is spread through unprotected sexual contact, along with tainted blood and syringes. It has been estimated that around 20-30 million people around the world may currently be infected with this disease.

The Black Death

The Black Death (1347-1351)

There has been no pandemic that was as impactful and devastating as the Black Death, which happened during the Middle Ages. It is the pandemic that changed the entire landscape of the rest of the world. The origins of the plague remain unclear, although it is commonly theorized that it may have been spread by rats and infected people from the Mongol Empire.

The event was called the Black Death, due to the black spots on the skin caused by the bubonic plague. Once the victim is infected with the disease, they can die within 4 to 7 days. In total, the pandemic caused the deaths of over 60-75 million people worldwide.


Key Takeaway

Pandemics are some of the most devastating human events in any part of the world. They have killed millions of lives, and continue to do so as the years go by. The next epidemic could just be around the corner, and we must be prepared for it.

“The Black Death” 3 Literary Pieces about the Bubonic Plague

The Bubonic Plague, also known as “Black Death” or “Black Plague”, is one of the most devastating pandemics in history. The carriers? Fleas that burrowed themselves in the fur of small rodents. Unfortunately for the people in the years 1346-53, there are no pest control would have minimized the spread of the fleas and the rats, and therefore could have prevented the spread this disease. The plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, and it has since also inspired different literary pieces, from folklore to nursery rhymes.

Here, we’ve listed some of the well-known pieces that both subtly and directly narrate pieces of the Black Death.

Ring around the Rosie

Ring around the Rosie

This is a very popular nursery rhyme and, guess what! Yep, it pertains to the Bubonic Plague. It comes in two main versions: The British and the American versions.

British version:

“Ring a ring o’ roses,

A pocket full of posies,

At-choo! At-choo!

We all fall down.”


American version:

“Ring around the rosie,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.”

The “ring of roses” is believed to be the red rashes around an infected person’s neck due to the swelling of lymph nodes. The posies, mentioned on the second line, are flowers that people believed to protect them from the disease and banish evil that causes the disease. These flowers are carried by people in the pockets. The third line is an obvious difference between the British and American versions. “At-choo At-choo!” describes one of the bubonic plague’s symptoms – sneezing. It is said that during those times, sneezing or coughing is a victim’s most fatal symptom that can instantly lead to death. The American version “Ashes! Ashes!” can describe the blackening of the skin once a person is infected with the said disease. It can also describe the cremation process or burning of the corpses of the infected. The last line “We all fall down” describes the death of the infected after four days.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

pied piper

Yet another classic piece of literature, this well-known faery tale / legend tells the story of the town of Hamelin during the 13th century experiencing a rat infestation. A man, dressed in pied clothing, showed up and claimed himself to be a rat catcher. The townsmen agreed to avail of the man’s service, and pay him for removing the infestation from their town. The man accepted the offer and played music with his magical pipe. He led the mice to the nearest river until all the rats drowned. Despite the man’s success, the townsfolk refused to pay him the amount he deserved. The man left the town, planning his revenge.

The story told above is only the first half of the whole tale. Perhaps the Pied Piper was a fictional or legendary pest controller.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

red masque

This is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s best pieces together with The Raven and Annabelle Lee. The Red Death, a disease that plagues a country, causes its victims to die quickly and horribly. Despite the spreading disease, a prince named Prospero, decided to close off the gates of his palace to fend of the plague. He also decided to throw a fancy masquerade ball few months after closing the gates.  He ordered each room to be painted with a single and specific color. The first room, located at the easternmost part of the palace, was painted in blue with blue stained-glass windows. The second room was painted with purple with purple stained-glass windows. This continues westward with the following color arrangement: green, orange, white, and violet. The seventh room is painted in black, with red stained-glass windows. At midnight, a new guest appears, with an appearance that looks similarly to a victim of the Red Death. No one dared to stop the new guest. Prospero was infuriated by the unwanted guest and followed him to the seventh room. As soon as Prospero caught him, the prince died. Then everyone else attacked the guest, and died as well.

Although not directly mentioned, there are speculations that the Red Death is an allegory for the Bubonic Plague.

We still might know all the diseases in the world nor do we know the cures, but at least we are somehow more equipped to deal with plagues now than we did before (at least, that’s what we hope). Additionally, we can thank our lucky stars that we now have the gift of pest control to