Special Report

20 Worst Epidemics and Pandemics in History

Infectious diseases have plagued humankind throughout history. When small bands of hunter-gatherers contracted an illness, it might have remained relatively contained; but as agrarian societies allowed for more heavily concentrated populations, these diseases could cause widespread damage. Trade routes between urban centers now became superhighways for the transmission of pathogens.

24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of the 20 worst epidemics and pandemics in history. An epidemic is defined as the widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. A pandemic is an epidemic that crosses international boundaries and affects a large number of people in multiple countries or worldwide.

Pandemics such as the Black Death, which wiped out 60% of the population of Europe, are capable of dramatically altering the course of history. They have devastated economies, toppled civilizations, ended empires. Here are great cities that came back after being nearly destroyed.

Over a million people died in each of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history. Smallpox, bubonic plague, and influenza were responsible for many of the pandemics. Luckily, due to worldwide vaccination efforts, smallpox was eradicated in 1980 — the only infection known to have been eliminated worldwide. 

Click here to read about the 20 worst epidemics and pandemics in history.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still killing thousands of people a day worldwide, vaccination efforts may help bring the current pandemic to an end. Here are states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Unfortunately, there will almost certainly be more calamitous epidemics and pandemics in the future. We can only hope that medical science will be able to keep up.