Over the course of humanity’s storied existence, all manner of illness and malady has befallen us. We’ve been nearly wiped out by diseases which don’t exist anymore, and we’ve created our own man-made diseases that have turned into global disasters. As we’re in the grips of the coronavirus, here are some earlier pandemics that caused a worldwide scare.

1. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) – 2002 to 2004

SARS originated in Foshan, China in November 2002 and quickly spread to over 26 countries by 2003. It resulted in more than 8000 people getting affected, and 774 people died from it. As this was a new and unknown viral illness, it caused panic around the world. Luckily, globally-enforced medical practices helped end the spread. 

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2. The Bubonic Plague – 1346 to 1353

Also known as the Black Death, this terrifying illness spread through rats and fleas. It caused all kinds of horrendous symptoms like bloody lesions across the body (including the genitals!), the skin turning black and of course, death. It killed 75 – 200 million across Europe, Africa, and Asia.


3. Asian Flu – 1956 to 1958

This illness was also known as Influenza A of the H2N2 subtype. It originated in China, and then travelled to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States, killing approximately 2 million people. The rapid development of a vaccine and the availability of antibiotics limited the spread and mortality of the pandemic.  


4. The Flu Pandemic – 1918 to 1920

Influenza has caused all kinds of problems for the human body, and between these years, it was especially deadly. 500 million people were infected (a third of the world’s population), and 20 to 50 million people lost their lives around the world. Strangely, it affected healthy young people the most, while those with weaker immune systems seemed to be fine. 


5. Zika Virus – 2015 to 2016

Originating in Brazil, the Zika virus, transmitted through mosquitoes, spread across North and South America. The illness causes rashes, pain and fever, but is especially dangerous as it causes microcephaly in infants, which can cause several mental problems. In 2015, there were 2400 possible cases of microcephaly and 29 infant deaths in Brazil. WHO had declared the virus a public health emergency, before declaring its end in 2016.

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6. The 3rd Cholera Pandemic – 1852 to 1860

Cholera has been notorious for the number of lives its taken over the centuries, especially as it took ages to even figure out that it spread through contaminated water. The third pandemic originated in India, and travelled through the Ganga to Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. It ended up killing 1 million people.

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7. The Ebola Virus – 2013 to Present

The Western African Ebola virus epidemic started in Guinea in December 2013 and later spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The dreaded disease had a high mortality rate of 60%, even among those hospitalised. It ended in 2016, with 28,646 suspected cases and 11,323 deaths. Currently, Ebola is also ravaging the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, with over 2200 deaths.  

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8. The Plague of Justinian – 541 to 542 AD

This was the first recorded incident of the bubonic plague, and it wreaked sheer havoc. It affected the Byzantine Empire and especially its capital, Constantinople, where it decimated 40% of the city’s population. In one year, the plague killed 25 million people, with 5000 people dying per day. 


With coronavirus on the warpath, it’s important to stay safe. It’s a highly contagious illness, so wash your hands and sneeze into your elbows!