Infographic: The History of Pandemics, by Death Toll

The history of pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) event, ranked by their impact on human life.


The History of Pandemics

Pan·dem·ic /panĖˆdemik/ (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.

As humans have spread across the world, so have infectious diseases. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has.

Today’s visualization outlines some of history’s most deadly pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the current COVID-19 event.

A Timeline of Historical Pandemics
Disease and illnesses have plagued humanity since the earliest days, our mortal flaw. However, it was not until the marked shift to agrarian communities that the scale and spread of these diseases increased dramatically.

Widespread trade created new opportunities for human and animal interactions that sped up such epidemics. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others first appeared during these early years.

The more civilized humans became – with larger cities, more exotic trade routes, and increased contact with different populations of people, animals, and ecosystems – the more likely pandemics would occur.

Antoine Plague 165-180 Believed to be either smallpox or measles 5M
Japanese smallpox epidemic 735-737 Variola major virus 1M
Plague of Justinian 541-542 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 30-50M
Black Death 1347-1351 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 200M
New World Smallpox Outbreak 1520 – onwards Variola major virus 56M
Great Plague of London 1665 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 100,000
Italian plague 1629-1631 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 1M
Cholera Pandemics 1-6 1817-1923 V. cholerae bacteria 1M+
Third Plague 1885 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 12M (China and India)
Yellow Fever Late 1800s Virus / Mosquitoes 100,000-150,000 (U.S.)
Russian Flu 1889-1890 Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin) 1M
Spanish Flu 1918-1919 H1N1 virus / Pigs 40-50M
Asian Flu 1957-1958 H2N2 virus 1.1M
Hong Kong Flu 1968-1970 H3N2 virus 1M
HIV/AIDS 1981-present Virus / Chimpanzees 25-35M
Swine Flu 2009-2010 H1N1 virus / Pigs 200,000
SARS 2002-2003 Coronavirus / Bats, Civets 770
Ebola 2014-2016 Ebolavirus / Wild animals 11,000
MERS 2015-Present Coronavirus / Bats, camels 850
COVID-19 2019-Present Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins)





















Infographic: The History of Pandemics, by Death Toll: