Epidemics and pandemics have the potential to kill millions of people – and they actually have. Long ago, deadly outbreaks known as the "Black Death", the "Plague of Justinian", and the "Spanish flu" ravaged countries, empires, and whole continents. Some of these diseases are still present around the globe. Others have become a thing of the past.
Discover how these ancient and not-so-distant outbreaks from past centuries differ from the modern-day SARS, MERS, and coronavirus pandemics. Listen to our new series "Outbreak: The Deadliest Epidemics in Human History" this week on Radio Sputnik.
Since the 1970s, the Ebola virus has been killing thousands of people, primarily in Africa. Despite the relatively low death toll numbers, Ebola has resulted in very high mortality rates in recent decades.
In 2009-2010, more than a quarter of a million people fell victim to the swine flu – a previously unknown strain of influenza that might have infected up to 21% of the planet’s population.
In 1918-1920, amid one of the deadliest armed conflicts in human history, over half a billion people contracted the Spanish flu – an unusually dangerous influenza strain that claimed more lives than all WWI battles combined.
An outbreak of an incurable disease severely damaged the mighty Byzantine Empire, killing millions of people around the Mediterranean. Its name was the Plague of Justinian and it hit Constantinople in 541 AD.