Visualizing the History of Pandemics

Happy April Fools! Pretty much every blog joke I thought of came across trite, cruel or inappropriate, so I decided to forego attempts at humor this year. Instead, I’m offering up some interesting historical death facts.

The infographics in the History of Pandemics are fascinating. You can see COVID-19 in comparison to other great pandemics of history. As we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers will change over time (this site updates the images and numbers regularly). The comparison to the Swine Flu is the most interesting to me because we recently lived through that one.

These deaths are total deaths – not percentage of the population at the time. Adjusting for population would really show how devastating the Black Plague and smallpox were in their time.

The History of Pandemics by Death Toll

The R0 rate is the main issue with COVID-19, but it is nothing compared to some of the most contagious pathogens. I had no idea how contagious measles was! While measles may be the most virulent, vaccination efforts and herd immunity curbed its spread. As with any virus, the more people are immune to a disease, the slower it will spread.

One interesting thing the article points out is that the urbanization and globalization of our population will change the outbreak pattern of pandemics from historical patterns. Small hunting and gathering tribes or local communities can have intense regional impact but a much slower spread pattern, while globalization and urbanization can spark opportunities for disease to spread. These macro trends are having a profound impact on the spread of infectious diseases including COVID-19.

Stay safe, stay strong!