Visualizing world’s deadliest pandemics by impacts on population: COVID-19 ranks at bottom killing 0.03% of the world population; Black Death killed 51%
The coronavirus pandemic started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of March 15, 2021, the deadly virus has claimed the lives of about 2.7 million people worldwide, which equates to 0.03% of the global population. For centuries, humanity has been battling against all kinds of diseases including the Black Death, Smallpox, Spanish Flu, HIV, and others.
While every life is precious and every death is sad, it is equally important that we put things in historical perspective and be thankful that we live in the 21st Century, not the 14th. Despite the media hysteria, COVID-19 is not one of the most deadly pandemics in history. No matter how bad the current coronavirus pandemic is, it is still pale in comparison to the deadliest plague in human history when we look at the impact relative to the global population back then.
So, how does the ongoing coronavirus pandemic compare to some of the most deadly pandemics in history? According to an infographic created by Visual Capitalist, a Vancouver, Canada-based company that creates rich visual content for the modern investor, COVID-19 ranks at the bottom of the world’s most deadly pandemics.
Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang did an excellent job in putting together this infographic with a visualization that outlines some of history’s most deadly pandemics. Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
According to estimates, the Black Death or Bubonic Plague of 1347-1351, which was spread by fleas, killed as many as 200 million people in just a few year’s time, killing more than half of the global population at the time. It’s estimated that up to half of Europe’s entire population was wiped out from the plague in the 14th century.
The Small Pox outbreak in the 1500s killed an estimated 56 million; the majority were children. In 1918, the Spanish Flu killed approximately 40 to 50 million. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is currently the fifth deadliest. Since 1981, 25 million to 35 million people have died. A decade ago, the Swine Flu claimed the lives of 200,000 people.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
|Pandemic||Death Toll by % of Population||Year of Population Estimate|
|Plague of Justinian||19.1%||500|
|The Third Plague||1.0%||1850|
|COVID-19||0.03%||2021 (as of March 15)|
Below is a full list.
|Name||Time period||Type / Pre-human host||Death toll|
|Antonine Plague||165-180||Believed to be either smallpox or measles||5M|
|Japanese smallpox epidemic||735-737||Variola major virus||1M|
|Plague of Justinian||541-542||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||30-50M|
|Black Death||1347-1351||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||200M|
|New World Smallpox Outbreak||1520 – onwards||Variola major virus||56M|
|Great Plague of London||1665||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||100,000|
|Italian plague||1629-1631||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||1M|
|Cholera Pandemics 1-6||1817-1923||V. cholerae bacteria||1M+|
|Third Plague||1885||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||12M (China and India)|
|Yellow Fever||Late 1800s||Virus / Mosquitoes||100,000-150,000 (U.S.)|
|Russian Flu||1889-1890||Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin)||1M|
|Spanish Flu||1918-1919||H1N1 virus / Pigs||40-50M|
|Asian Flu||1957-1958||H2N2 virus||1.1M|
|Hong Kong Flu||1968-1970||H3N2 virus||1M|
|HIV/AIDS||1981-present||Virus / Chimpanzees||25-35M|
|Swine Flu||2009-2010||H1N1 virus / Pigs||200,000|
|SARS||2002-2003||Coronavirus / Bats, Civets||770|
|Ebola||2014-2016||Ebolavirus / Wild animals||11,000|
|MERS||2015-Present||Coronavirus / Bats, camels||850|
|COVID-19||2019-Present||Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins)||2.7M (Johns Hopkins University estimate as of March 15, 2021)|