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The Greatest Epidemic Diseases in History


The Greatest Epidemic Diseases in History

Throughout history, humanity has faced major epidemics due to many infectious diseases, and these epidemics have deeply affected the structure, history and even geography of societies. The prominent ones among these epidemics have shaped the course of history not only with the death and destruction during the period in which they spread, but also with the lasting effects they left. Here are the biggest epidemics in history and their effects on humanity:

Antonine Plague (165-180) and Justinian Plague (541-549)

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This image depicting the Antonine Plague and the Plague of Justinian was created with artificial intelligence. Image: Tourism Diary

The Antonine Plague, which affected the Roman Empire in 165 AD, caused the death of an estimated 5 million people. This epidemic, thought to be caused by smallpox or measles virus, played an important role in weakening Rome militarily and economically, causing widespread population loss in the empire.

The Plague of Justinian broke out in the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century and spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. It was recorded as the first major plague epidemic known throughout history, causing the death of 25 million people. It left deep traces in the economic and social structure and was instrumental in Europe entering the Dark Ages.

Reading Suggestion:5 Epidemic Themed Series You Should Watch on Netflix

Black Death / Black Plague (1347-1351)

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Black Plague Mask: To protect themselves, plague doctors wore masks with a long bird-like beak and costumes that covered their bodies from head to feet. This costume consisted of a coat coated with scented wax, trousers tied to boots, a compressed shirt, a hat and gloves made of goatskin, according to Charles de Lorme’s description. Plague doctors’ beaked masks were designed to filter toxic particles from the air. These masks were filled with thrips, a mixture of ingredients including more than 55 herbs, viper flesh powder, cinnamon, myrrh and honey. Image: Depositphotos

The Black Death, which ravaged Europe, Asia and Africa, is one of the deadliest epidemics recorded in history. This plague epidemic, which caused the death of approximately one-third of the population, cost the lives of 75-200 million people. By creating cracks in the feudal system, it paved the way for social and economic changes in Europe.

The biggest factors that play a role in the spread of the disease, which is called the black death because the bodies of sick people turn purple-black in a short time after death; The population rate increased as the villagers started having too many children, the need for cleanliness was not seen as a virtue, the pollution around the church was seen as sacred, and St. Jerome found it sufficient to have washed once in the womb of Jesus and said that there was no need to wash again, the drying of swamps for agricultural purposes, Turning steep slopes and forests into agricultural areas, climate change, the spread of microbe-carrying fleas first to China and then to Europe with the Mongolian migration, and the lack of scientific developments and health facilities can be listed as reasons.

1817 Cholera Epidemic

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The painting by Pavel Fedotov, a Russian painter known for his Hogarthian style, shows a death from cholera in the mid-19th century.

Cholera, considered the deadliest disease of the 19th century, is an intestinal infection caused by the bacteria called ‘vibrio cholerae’. The disease, which appeared around the Indian Ocean and in Asia in 1817, quickly spread all over the world; It was seen in many places, including Japan, Moscow, Berlin, Paris, London and in 1881 in the Ottoman Empire. It also caused great losses in the Balkan Wars.

Cholera has existed in India for many years due to the fact that the Ganges River is considered sacred and used in unhygienic conditions, and the climatic conditions of the region are suitable for the reproduction of bacteria. Factors such as India’s increasing population, trade routes and British colonies were effective in the spread of the disease. Cholera, which was carried to Europe by the British through trade routes, affected a wide geography from Bengal and Nepal to Africa, Ceylon, South East Asia and Japan, and caused 6 more major cholera pandemics in the 19th century. These pandemics have generally followed routes from India to Europe.


Smallpox (Smallpox, variola, variola major), also known as African disease, is a viral disease caused by the smallpox virus that has caused major epidemics and many deaths in the past. Variola (Smallpox) virus enters the body from the person’s nasopharynx area and multiplies by settling in the lymph nodes.

Smallpox (variola) is considered one of the deadliest diseases in human history and is caused by the Variola virus. It manifests itself with high fever, fatigue, severe headache and characteristic skin rashes. The disease leads the infected person to death due to the blisters and pus-filled wounds caused by the rash. As a result of the global vaccination campaign initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1967, smallpox was completely eradicated in 1980. This is the first and only known completely eradicated infectious disease in human history. The eradication of smallpox is considered one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. It is estimated that approximately 56 million people died due to smallpox by the time it ended in 1980.

Reading Suggestion:5 Epidemic Themed Series You Should Watch on Netflix

1914 Spanish Flu

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Soldiers with Spanish flu in a hospital ward, Kansas, United States, 1918. Image: Wikipedia

The Spanish Flu, which caused the death of more than 50 million people worldwide between 1914 and 1918, is one of the deadliest epidemics in modern history. This epidemic, which was determined to be caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus, spread rapidly at the end of the First World War. The fact that it was reported more in Spain due to media censorship at the time led to the use of the name “Spanish Flu”.

There are various opinions about where the Spanish flu first appeared; One theory suggests that the flu originated in Guandong, China, and was carried to Europe via trade from China, whose population of 400 million was frequently exposed to flu epidemics in the 1900s. Another view is that approximately 50,000 soldiers brought to Europe from colonial countries during World War I carried the disease and thus the epidemic spread. These soldiers are thought to have carried local diseases, such as Annam pneumonia, to Europe. It is also stated that 150,000 tons of harmful chemical gases (such as chlorine and phosphorus) used during the war contributed to the epidemic. The inability of the H1N1 virus that caused the Spanish flu to fully adapt to the human body caused the virus to become more lethal over time and the pandemic occurred in three stages. The epidemic first started in March 1918, disappeared after a while and re-emerged in 1919.

HIV/AIDS Pandemic

HIV cases, which are decreasing in the world, are increasing in Turkey. HIV infection is a virus that weakens the immune system and specifically targets CD4 T cells. With the decrease of these cells, the immune system weakens and can lead to AIDS. HIV infection may initially cause few or no symptoms, and AIDS is diagnosed when the CD4 T cell count falls below 200 or in the presence of a serious complication associated with AIDS. HIV is a chronic condition and can be controlled with appropriate medication. Infection, It can be transmitted through the infected person’s blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk.HIV, which can affect people of all genders, It can be spread through unprotected sexual intercourse and shared needle use.While symptoms such as fever, rash, and sore throat may be observed in the early stages of the infection, more serious symptoms such as rapid weight loss, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and neurological problems may occur in the AIDS stage.

The HIV virus, discovered in 1981, has caused a global health crisis that has killed millions of people since then. Especially the African continent is among the regions most affected by this virus. The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) pandemic caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has had profound impacts on healthcare systems, causing significant changes in global health policies and research.

SARS and Swine Flu

The 2000s are remembered for the SARS and swine flu epidemics. The SARS epidemic started in Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003 and spread throughout the world, causing the death of 775 people and affecting 37 countries.

Swine flu, which emerged in 2009, was first seen in Mexico and spread throughout the world, killing 18,500 people. After this epidemic, its effect decreased with the development of vaccines and drugs. During the swine flu epidemic, pharmaceutical companies, companies producing soap and cleaning products, companies providing health consultancy and private health services were positively affected economically and earned billions of dollars in profits from this process.

Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic

Yeni koronavirüs tedbirleri The COVID-19 pandemic is a respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, quickly spread throughout the world and turned into a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. The epidemic is still effective today with its different mutations.

While COVID-19, which is accompanied by basic symptoms such as cough, fever, shortness of breath and loss of taste/smell, has been mild in some cases, it has led to severe respiratory failure, organ failure and death in others. Measures such as wearing masks, social distance and hand hygiene have played an important role in the fight against COVID-19. It caused the death of nearly 7 million people worldwide. Epidemic diseases. Epidemic diseases. Epidemic diseases.

The epidemic has forced governments to impose large-scale quarantine measures, impose travel restrictions and provide emergency healthcare services. It has also caused serious disruptions in economic, social and educational areas. Scientists and health organizations have quickly worked on vaccines and treatment methods to prevent the spread of the virus and control the pandemic. Throughout 2020 and 2021, several COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and rolled out for distribution globally. Epidemic diseases. Epidemic diseases.


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