15 Facts About Pandemics

History has a habit of repeating itself. Many pandemics like the one we’re currently living in have run their course in the previous years. Their effect and after-effects have been passed on from generations to generations. Here are 15 facts you should know about pandemics all around the globe throughout history:

  1. A disease does not classify as a pandemic merely because it is international or widespread; the disease must also be infectious. Take for example cancer. It is widespread but is not a pandemic because it is not infectious.
  2. The word “pandemic” is from the Greek word “all” and “demos,” meaning people.
  3. Scientists believe that flu pandemics occur two or three times each century i.e. every hundred years.
  4. Black Death was one of the most destructive pandemics in history. It killed about 75-200 million people in the 14th century.
  5. European explorers brought several Eurasian diseases to the Americas with them. These illnesses, including smallpox, contributed to the collapse of the Inca and Aztec civilizations. Because of the “American Plagues”, 90% of the indigenous population in the Western Hemisphere was killed off.
  6. The earliest cases of flu pandemic (1889-1890) were reported in Russia. The virus spread rapidly throughout St. Petersburg before reaching the rest of Europe and finally the rest of the world. The rate was surprising because air travel didn’t even exist yet!
  7. Here’s a curious case of a domino effect for you: It is believed that because President Woodrow Wilson was still affected by the Spanish flu, he unexpectedly gave in to the French demands for the harsh and humiliating peace terms imposed on Germany after WWI. This, in turn, led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and WWII.
  8. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) had a mortality rate of 9.6%.
  9. Despite the name Spanish Flu, the disease likely did not start in Spain. Spain did not enforce strict censorship of its press during the war, which is why early accounts of the illness could be published from there. This made people falsely believe that the illness was specific to Spain, and the name Spanish Flu stuck.
  10. The Asian Flu pandemic originated in China and claimed more than 1 million lives.
  11. The infamous H1N1 form of swine flu has descended from the complex strain that caused the 1918 flu pandemic.
  12. The Spanish flu killed more Americans in one year than the combined total who died in battle during WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
  13. AIDS has claimed an estimated 35 million lives since it was first identified. It was declared a pandemic in the late 20th century and still continues to be one.
  14. Scientists believe the ancestor of all coronaviruses existed as recently as 8,000 BC.
  15. The human flu virus was first identified by experimenting with ferrets.

If you’ve scrolled to the end of this article, don’t forget to wash your hands!


1. 60 Surprising Facts about the Flu and Pandemics. Available at: https://www.factretriever.com/flu-facts. Accessed on 19 May 2020.

2. 20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html. Accessed on 19 May 2020.

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