20 of History's Most Devastating Plagues and Epidemics
20 of History’s Most Devastating Plagues and Epidemics

20 of History’s Most Devastating Plagues and Epidemics

Steve - March 1, 2019

20 of History’s Most Devastating Plagues and Epidemics
The influenza viruses that caused the Hong Kong flu (magnified approximately 100,000 times). F. A. Murphy, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis/ Wikimedia Commons.

1. The last pandemic to claim more than one million lives, “Hong Kong flu” spread quickly around the world but fortunately carried an atypically low mortality rate

The 1968 flu pandemic, more commonly referred to as “Hong Kong flu” and lasting between 1968 and 1969, was the product of mutations in the influenza virus. The first known outbreak of the H3N2 strain, descended from the H2N2 strain the new variant was a response to the traditionally avian virus mutating within a swine host. First appearing in the city of Hong Kong on July 13, 1968, Chinese authorities, failing to learn from an outbreak of Asian flu in 1957, were extremely slow to respond or issue warnings. By the end of July, outbreaks were reported in both Vietnam and Singapore, with India, the Philippines, Australia, and Europe infected by September.

Reaching the United States via troops returning from the Vietnam War in December, Africa and South America were eventually infected in 1969. Fortunately for humanity, compared to other flu pandemics Hong Kong flu carried a low mortality rate. This was chiefly because of a winter outbreak, some natural immunity after the Asian flu outbreak, and vastly improved medical care. Killing an estimated one million people worldwide, including 33,800 in the United States, a vaccine was developed as rapidly as possible and began being administered as early as 1968 to some patients.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“DNA Examination of Ancient Dental Pulp Incriminates Typhoid Fever as a Probable Cause of the Plague of Athens”, M.J. Papagrigorakis, C. Yapijakis, P.N. Synodinos, and E. Baziotopoulou-Valavani, International Journal of Infectious Diseases (2006)

“Galen and the Antonine Plague”, R.J. Littman and M.L. Littman, American Journal of Philology (1973)

“The Plague Under Marcus Aurelius”, J.F. Gilliam, American Journal of Philology (July 1961)

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Seeking Hope, They Found Death“, Rene Bruemmer, Montreal Gazette (May 30, 2009)

“The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship”, James Mangan, Mercier Press (1994)

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