Each year, providers see repeated cases of seasonal flu and other ailments. Larger outbreaks can dominate the evening news and create great challenges for health officials, communities or whole continents. The 2009 swine flu pandemic is a good example of how quickly disease can spread and cause panic.
Throughout history, however, there have been significantly more dangerous and frightening plagues. These events are fear-provoking in nature, and are especially alarming to nurses and other health professionals who know firsthand how challenging a new outbreak can be. Here are 5 of the scariest plagues throughout history:
1. Bubonic Plague
The most famous instance of disease outbreak, the bubonic plague – known simply as the Black Death – killed millions. From 1347-1351, this dangerous bacterial infection spread across Europe, carried by rodents and fleas. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that as many as 200 million deaths can be attributed to the Black Death. In Europe, perhaps half of the population died in just four years because of the bubonic plague. Although many people believe that bubonic plague has been eradicated, there are still instances of this disease today, according to National Public Radio.
2. Spanish Flu
At the close of World War I in 1918, the world was thrust into a wave of celebration. Unfortunately, troops that had been huddled together in tight, unsanitary quarters were the perfect cases for spreading a new strain of flu around the world. Known as the Spanish Flu. This new disease caused unimaginable global destruction. According to the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Spanish Flu affected one-third of the global population. A shocking 25 million deaths came in just over six months. In total, 3 to 5 percent of the global population perished at the hands of the Spanish Flu, with 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
3. The Plague of Justinian
As the Roman Empire struggled to regain its former glory, a wave of disease crippled Southeastern Europe in 541 CE. The RWJ Foundation reported that this may in fact have been caused by the same bacterial infection that would later cause the Black Death 1,000 years later. The Easter Roman Empire was crippled by this outbreak, with as many as 5,000 deaths each day in Constantinople alone.
4. Memphis Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever is a largely tropical disease, but in 1878, refugees fleeing war-torn Cuba descended on New Orleans, causing a serious epidemic. Further north, Memphis city officials attempted to blockade goods and travel from New Orleans, but objections from the business community undermined this effort. A total of 5,000 people died in Memphis at the hands of Yellow Fever, with 20,000 total deaths reported in the Mississippi Valley.
5. Foot-and-Mouth outbreak of 2001
Human history is full of scary instances of disease outbreak, but animals can also be susceptible to plague. The BBC stated that the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the U.K. in 2001 lead to the death of millions of livestock. Even small cities saw hundreds of animals affected, threatening business and tourism in the area.