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:

“Was Humanity Born in the Mother of all Plagues”, Michael Marshall, The New Scientist (June 4, 2012)

“Ancient Plague May Have Wiped Out Stone Age Farmers in Europe”, Josh Gabbatiss, The Independent (December 6, 2018)

“Plagues and People”, William H. McNeill, Anchor Books (1976)

“Rats, Lice and History: A Chronicle of Pestilence and Plagues”, Hans Zinsser, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers (1996)

“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)

“Solving the Mystery of an Ancient Roman Plague”, Kyle Harper, The Atlantic (November 1, 2017)

“The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire”, Kyle Harper, Princeton University Press (2017)

“Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750”, Lester K. Little, Cambridge University Press (2006)

“Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World’s Most Dangerous Disease”, Wendy Orent. Simon & Schuster (2004)

“Encyclopaedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present”, George C. Kohn, Infobase Publishing (2002)

“The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History”, Donald R. Hopkins, University of Chicago Press (2002)

“The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History”, Ole J. Benedictow, Boydell Press (2012)

“In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made”, Norman Cantor, Harper Perennial (2002)

“Disease Outbreaks in Central Mexico During the Sixteenth Century”, Hanns Prem, in “Secret Judgements of God: Old World Disease in Colonial Spanish America”, David Noble Cook and George W. Lovell, University of Oklahoma Press (1991)

“The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico 1519-1810”, Charles Gibson, Stanford University Press (1964)

“Manitou and Providence”, Neal Salisbury, Oxford University Press (1982)

“Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History”, J.N. Hays, ABC-CLIO (2005)

“Epidemics Resulting from Wars”, Friedrich Prinzing, Buchanan Press (2009)

“The Great Plague in London in 1665”, Walter George Bell, AMS Press (2001)

“The Plague and the Fire”, James Leasor, George Allen and Unwin (1962)

“Plague: An Ancient Disease in the Twentieth Century”, Charles T. Gregg, University of New Mexico (1985)

“The Last Plague in the Baltic Region, 1709-1713”, Karl-Erik Frandsen, Museum Tusculanum Press (2010)

“Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History”, Brn Barnard, Crown Publishers (2005)

“Plague and Pestilence: A History of Infectious Disease”, Linda Jacobs Altman, Enslow Publishing (1998)

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

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

“Epidemiology of the Russian flu, 1889-1890”, Michelle Ziegler (January 3, 2011)

“The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Great Plague in History”, J.M. Barry, Viking Penguin Publishing (2005)

“Epidemic and Peace: 1918”, A.W. Crosby, Greenwood Press (1976)

“Mass Mediated Disease: A Case Study Analysis of Three Flu Pandemics and Public Health Policy”, Debra E. Blakely, Lexington Books (2006)