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A History of Pandemics

Abbas Ahmed Rather / OP-ED



A disease is consider to be an epidemic when it spreads over a wide geographical area. And In the realm of infectious diseases a pandemic is the worst case scenario. When an epidemic spreads beyond a country’s borders, that’s when the disease officially becomes a pandemic. Communicable diseases existed since the human history way back to hunter-gatherer days, but the shift to agrarian life some ten thousand years ago created communities that made epidemics more destructive. See a timeline below of pandemics that, in ravaging human populations, changed history.
In Athens 430 B.C
The earliest recorded pandemic happened in Athens. The Plague of Athens was an epidemic that devastated the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC).The plague killed As much as two-thirds of the population.

Antonina Plague 165 A.D
The Antonina Plague of 165 to 180 AD, also known as the Plague of Galen was an early appearance of smallpox that began with the Huns. The Huns then infected the Germans, who passed it to the Romans by troops returning from campaigns in the Near East. This plague continued until about 180 A.D.
Cyprian Plague 250 A.D
The Plague of Cyprian Possibly starting in Ethiopia, it passed through Northern Africa, into Rome in the following year eventually spreading to Greece and further east to Syria. killed as many as 5,000 people per day in Rome.
Justinian Plague 541 A.D
The Plague of Justinian :was a pandemic that spread through Palestine and the Byzantine Empire and especially its capital Constantinople as well as the Sasanian Empire and port cities around the entire Mediterranean Sea resulting in the deaths of an estimated 25–100 million people.

Leprosy :11th Century
Though it had been around for ages that leprosy grew into a pandemic. The history of leprosy was traced by geneticists in 2005 through its origins and worldwide distribution using comparative genomics.

The Black Death:1350
The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence, the most devastating pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people from 1347 to 1351. Black Death was the first major European outbreak estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population .It was responsible for the death of 1/3rd of population.

The Columbian Exchange 1492
Following the arrival of the Spanish in the Caribbean, diseases such as smallpox, measles and bubonic plague were passed along to the native populations by the Europeans. With no previous exposure, these diseases devastated indigenous people, with as many as 90 percent dying throughout the north and south continents.

The Great Plague of London: 1665
In another devastating plague led to the deaths of 20 percent of London’s population. As human death tolls mounted and mass graves appeared, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs were slaughtered as the possible cause and the disease spread through ports along the Thames. The worst of the outbreak tapered off in the fall of 1666, around the same time as another destructive event—the Great Fire of London.

cholera pandemic 1817 -1824
The first cholera pandemic (1817–1824), also known as the first Asiatic cholera pandemic or Asiatic cholera, began near the city of Calcutta and spread throughout Southeast Asia to the Middle East, eastern Africa and the Mediterranean coast. While cholera had spread across India many times previously, this outbreak went further; it reached as far as China and the Mediterranean Sea before subsiding. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of this pandemic, including many British soldiers, which attracted European attention.

The Third plague Pandemic 1855
Starting in China and moving to India and Hong Kong, the bubonic plague claimed 15 million victims. Initially spread by fleas during a mining boom in Yunnan, the plague is considered a factor in the Parthay rebellion and the Taiping rebellion. India faced the most substantial casualties, and the epidemic was used as an excuse for repressive policies that sparked some revolt against the British. The pandemic was considered active until 1960 when cases dropped below a couple hundred.

Spanish Flu N1H1:1918
The Spanish flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. Lasting from January 1918-1920. The influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. The avian-borne flu resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide. The flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world. At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. The reports of a flu outbreak in Madrid in the spring of 1918 led to the pandemic being called the “Spanish flu. “By October, hundreds of thousands of Americans died and body storage scarcity hit crisis level. But the flu threat disappeared in the summer of 1919 when most of the infected had either developed immunities or died.

HIV/AIDS :1981
First identified in 1981, AIDS destroys a person’s immune system, resulting in eventual death by diseases that the body would usually fight off. Those infected by the HIV virus encounter fever, headache, and enlarged lymph nodes upon infection. Treatments have been developed to slow the progress of the disease, but 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery, and a cure is yet to be found .

SARC (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)2003
SARS Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and difficulty in breathing.(SARS-CoV) – virus identified in 2003. SARS-CoV is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals .An epidemic of SARS affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8000 cases in 2003.
The Transmission of SARS-CoV is primarily from person to person.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)SARC 2 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus, the family of viruses that includes the common flu and SARS.The first reported case in China appeared November 17, 2019, in the Hubei Province, but finally On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 virus was officially a pandemic after barrelling through almost in 193 countries in three months and infecting over 742747 people by 30th of March 2020, The pandemic is spreading like wildfire. What started surreptitiously sometime in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, has engulfed more then 193 countries and regions by March 30, 2020. Globally over 742747 have been reported as confirmed infected, over 24,500 have died, and around 1,15,000 have recovered and the spread is not anywhere near control. Symptoms such as respiratory problems ,dry cough, fever, head ache and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing . Like SARS, it spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze. It also spreads when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. You can protect yourself by washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and avoiding close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell. Without a vaccine available, the virus is believed to be a biggest threat for human property.


Abbas Ahmad Rather is a research scholar in political science at UOK
[email protected]



Note : The Op-Ed pages feature opinion pieces written by outside contributors and IK’s own team of columnists and Editorial board members .