A timeline of emerging infectious diseases in history

The world has entered "a pandemic era" in which humans' impact on the environment may cause new infectious diseases to emerge more frequently, Anthony Fauci, MD, and his colleague David Morens, MD, wrote in an article for Cell.

Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Dr. Morens, a senior advisor at the NIAID, said activities like deforestation, overfishing and urban crowding can disrupt the natural ecosystem, which may be a contributing factor to the emergence of diseases.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another reminder, added to the rapidly growing archive of historical reminders, that in a human-dominated world, in which our human activities represent aggressive, damaging and unbalanced interactions with nature, we will increasingly provoke new disease emergences," they wrote. 

Drs. Fauci and Morens shared the following timeline of key emerging and reemerging infectious diseases that have spread across the globe:

Note: Most mortality figures represent estimates. 

430 BCE — The Plague of Athens killed about 100,000 people and is the first transregional pandemic in recorded history. The exact disease that caused this plague is unknown.

541 — The Plague of Justinian killed 30 million to 50 million people and was caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis.

1340s — "Black Death," a bubonic plague caused by Yersinia pestis, killed about 50 million people.

1494 — Syphilis, a pandemic brought to Europe from the Americas, has killed more than 50,000 people and is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum.

c. 1500 — Tuberculosis is an ancient disease that became a pandemic in the Middle Ages and has killed millions.

1520 — Smallpox, caused by the bacteria Variola major, has killed about 3.5 million people.

1793-1798 — Yellow fever killed about 25,000 people in colonial America in what is referred to as "The American Plague."

1832 — The 1832 cholera pandemic killed about 18,402 people, spreading across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

1918 — Spanish flu killed about 50 million people and caused additional pandemics in 1957, 1968 and 2009.

1976 - 2020 — Ebola has killed 15,258 people and caused 29 epidemics since it was first detected in 1976.

1981 — Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis is a derivative of pink eye that was first recognized in 1969 and caused a pandemic in 1981.

1981 — HIV/AIDS have killed about 37 million people since it was first identified in 1981. It is considered an ongoing pandemic.

2002 — SARS killed 813 people in what health experts call a "near-pandemic" in 2002.

2009 — H1N1 "swine flu" killed 284,000 people in what was the century's fifth flu pandemic.

2014 — Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in 1952 and became pandemic in 2014. Deaths from this virus are uncommon.

2015 — Zika is a type of flavivirus that has existed for decades. It wasn't until 2015 that the mosquito-borne virus spread pandemically, likely due to a virus mutation.

More articles on public health:

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