In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Earth.Org takes you back to some of the most important disease outbreaks in history. Here, we cover the three biggest plague pandemics that shook the world to its core.
The First Plague (541AD-549AD)
The First Plague Pandemic, also known as the Justinian Plague originated from China and NE India around 541AD. It afflicted the entire Mediterranean basin, severely affecting Constantinople whose roman emperor Justinian I contracted but survived the disease.
This pandemic recurred around the Mediterranean until 544, and in Northern Europe and the Arabian Peninsula until 549. Up to a quarter of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean succumbed to these outbreaks.
The Second Plague (The Black Death, 1347AD -1351AD)
The Second and most infamous Plague pandemic was the Black Death (1347 – 1351), recognized as the deadliest pandemic ever recorded, claiming 25 to 200 million lives across Eurasia and North Africa. It originated somewhere in East Asia and crossed Eurasia before reaching Kaffa (known today as Feodosia), from which it spread throughout the Mediterranean basin.
It is estimated that 30 to 60% of Europe’s population succumbed to this plague, and this was only one of two disastrous late Medieval events, the second being the Great Famine (1315-1322).
While large areas of Europe were affected by the Black Death, some places were spared. These include the Kingdom of Poland, isolated parts of Belgium, Netherlands, Milan and the modern day France-Spain border.
The Third Plague, also called the Chinese Plague, originated from the Yunnan Province in China in 1855. From there, it spread to Hong Kong, a major port at the time, where daily water traffic resulted in the plagues’ rapid global spread. The well developed global shipping network facilitated the propagation of the disease to a global scale.
From Hong Kong, the plague reached Mumbai which acted as a secondary epicenter for its spread across the Middle East and Europe.
Today, the plague is still endemic to some areas, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Peru and California. About 600 cases are reported each year, but these can now be prevented or treated by vaccine or antibiotics.
Maps powered by Esri, done by Yik Sang Fong Dorothy.
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