COVID-19 might not be the worst pandemic in history

Is COVID-19 the worst pandemic in the history of man? Read in this article other pandemics that might be worse than the Coronavirus pandemic
By Emeh Joy

So far, about 2 million people worldwide have died from the Coronavirus pandemic. While this figure is alarming, does it mean the COVID-19 is the worst pandemic of all time?

In the future, families around different parts of the world would always remember what happened in 2020, which threw the whole world into different degrees of lockdown.

People would remember because there would be gaps in family pictures, unoccupied seat meant for a lost one at events, saved last messages from loved ones etc.

However, history will trace the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic based on milestones. An example of such milestone is that as of January 2021, about 2 million people have died of the coronavirus pandemic, globally.

Despite this massive loss of lives, it might shock you to know that some other pandemics in the past have caused a similar number of losses and have in fact wreaked worse havoc.

Have you heard of the 1918 flu pandemic, the plague of Justinian, the Antonine plague? Have you heard of the terrifying Black Death?

In this article, you will learn about other worst pandemics in history. But, first, let's give you a brief update of the currently raging coronavirus pandemic.

A brief update of the coronavirus pandemic

No doubt, COVID-19 is one of the deadliest respiratory pandemics this century. It has also caused one of the deadliest global pandemics since the breakout of HIV/AIDS four decades ago.

According to a Time report, about 12,000 to 13,000 people have died from COVID-19 every day worldwide over the past week.

As around October last year, about 5,500 people were dying of the pandemic per day globally; the daily death tolls have been increasing steadily since then.

This alarming number of deaths would likely have a larger number of people more interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine now more than ever.

The good news is that the first batch of tested, effective coronavirus vaccines have been developed. Distribution of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have already commenced as many countries of the world pre-ordered doses of the vaccines.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective against the novel Coronavirus. But, that doesn't guarantee it would offer a lifetime immunity.

There are still some important things to know about the coronavirus vaccine. People have also asked questions such as, "Will the coronavirus vaccine offers lifetime immunity?" Scientists can't tell for now.

In some countries such as the United States, efforts to have the coronavirus vaccine distributed has been impeded by factors like logistic problems and supply chain limitations.

A newly mutated variant of the coronavirus was discovered in the UK late last year and was announced early this year. This variant of the virus is said to be highly infectious. It has already spread to several countries, thus causing an even higher spike in the number of coronavirus cases.

With over 400,000 reported deaths, the U.S has the highest COVID-19 death toll, followed by Brazil with over 217,000 and then India with over 152,000 death reports.

5 of the worst pandemics in human history

A pandemic is the widespread occurrence of a disease. It is a disease outbreak that cuts across countries and even continents.

An epidemic is also the outbreak of a disease. However, unlike the epidemic which spreads across multiple regions, an epidemic is confined to a community, a region or a country.

Let's check out five pandemics that are among the most brutal killers in human history asides the COVID-19.

1. Antonine plague, 165 AD (5 million deaths)

The Antonine plague brings to mind the pestilence in Rome in 165 AD. The Antonine plague is one of the worst pandemics in history of man and nearly destroyed the Roman empire.

The Antonine Plague is one of the worst pandemics in global history. The Antonine Plague is also known as the Plague of Galen.

The Antonine plague is named after Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, one of the two Roman emperors that died from the plague. The Greek writer and physician, Galen also got infected with the disease when he travelled from Rome to his home which is present-day Turkey.

The cause of the Antonine Plague is quite unknown; however, the plague caused havoc majorly in Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy.

Even though the cause of the disease is still unknown, it is thought to have been either measles or smallpox. The deadly disease was brought to Rome by soldiers who were returning from Mesopotamia as far back as 165AD.

The soldiers unknowing spread the disease, which ended up killing over 5 million people.

2. Plague of Justinian (25 million deaths)

The Plague of Justinian was caused by Bubonic Plague and claimed the lives of as much as 25 million people. It is one of the worst pandemics recorded in human history.

Wondering what the bubonic plague means?

The Bubonic plague is a type of plague that causes the formation of Buboes (swollen and painful lymph nodes underneath the arms, in the groins or in the neck. It is one of the three types of plague caused by the bacterium, Yersinia Pestis.

The Plague of Justinian was believed to have killed about half the population of Europe. It is an outbreak of the bubonic plague. The plague affected the ancient Byzantine Empire and Mediterranean port cities.

The Justinian plague took about 25 million lives and is no doubt one of the worst pandemics history has ever recorded (Image source: ArtStation)

The Plague of Justinian is regarded as the first recorded incident of the Bubonic Plague. It caused devastating effects to the Eastern Mediterranean and Constantinople city.

During the pandemic peak, it was said to have killed an estimated 5,000 people daily, which resulted in the death of nearly 40% of the city's population.

3. The 1918 flu pandemic (20-50 million deaths)

The 1918 flu pandemic was caused by influenza A virus. Also called the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, this virus raged between 1918 and 1920, cutting across countries and infecting over one-third of the world's population.

The 1918 flu caused the death of 20-50 million people worldwide. Over 500 million people were infected with the flu in 1918, with an estimated death rate of 10-20 per cent.

The 1918 flu pandemic caused up to 25 million deaths within the first 25 weeks alone.

One major difference between the 1918 flu pandemic and other flu outbreaks such as the 1968 pandemic and the 1889-1890 flu pandemics is while the majorly took lives of the juveniles and older people or people with a weakened immune system, the 19118 flu pandemic affected even the young, healthy adults.

The 1918 flu was first identified in Europe, some parts of Asia and the United States of America before it swiftly spread to other parts of the world.

During those days, no effective drug or vaccine was yet developed to treat this deadly flu strain.

However, just like some of the COVID-19 precautionary measures, people were instructed to wear face masks while social activities, schools, business and theatres were shut down.

4. The HIV/AIDS pandemic (36 million deaths)

HIV/AIDS is another deadly disease that claimed many lives and might as well be classified as one of the worst pandemics in human history.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic was indeed one of the worst pandemics of all times as it has claimed many lives worldwide. HIV was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and has caused the death of more than 36 million people since 1981.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). When left untreated, HIV can weaken the immune system, thus disabling the body's ability to fight off infection.

There are currently about 38 million people living with HIV worldwide, with a greater number of these people being from Sub-Saharan Africa. About 5% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, which translates to approximately 21 million people.

The good news is that new treatments are being developed for HIV, and with anti-retroviral drugs now available, HIV disease is now better managed than years ago.

Countries have launched HIV awareness campaigns to help curb the spread of the disease and prevent more people from dying from the disease. Now, people living with HIV can still lead productive lives.

The annual global death recorded for HIV/AIDS between 2005 and 2012 dropped from 2.2 million to 1.6 million.

5. The Black Death, 1346-1353 (75-200 million deaths)

The Black Death which occurred as far back as 1346 is one of the worst pandemics of all times (Image: Triumph of Death painting by Pieter Bruegel)

The Black Death, just like the Plague of Justinian, is caused by the Bubonic Plague. The Black Death pandemic broke out from around 1346-1353 and has been one of the worst pandemics recorded in the history of man.

The Black Death pandemic ravaged the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia, causing the death of not less than 75 million people.

The Black Death was believed to have originated from Asia, precisely China and most likely spread to other continents through fleas that lived on rats harboured aboard merchant ships.

The first symptoms of the plague appeared a few days after infection. The symptoms include headache, fever, weakness, white tongue, confusion, slurred speech, fatigue and accompanied by the appearance of painful lymph node swellings.

Back in those days, ports were the major urban centres and formed a perfect breeding ground for the fleas and rats thus; the bacterium, Yersinia pestis did not only flourish but spread through continents causing an alarming number of deaths.

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