These are the worst pandemics in the world

The history of humanity, its demography and its economic evolution are closely linked to the history of pandemics in the world. With COVID-19 still hitting the world population, there are many who look at past pandemics, the pandemics in the history of mankind, trying to foresee its effects.

Since humanity began to structure itself into population centers, with the development of trade routes and long journeys, the spread of diseases has been the object of concern and study. Each pandemic has been a human drama accompanied by profound economic and social changes.

Therefore, in Economipedia, we analyze which were the worst pandemics in history, as well as their main consequences.

The worst pandemics in the world

Next, we will look at the three worst pandemics in history.

The Plague of Justinian in the time of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire reached one of its most splendid stages during the reign of Justinian. In the year 541 d. C., having as its origin the African continent, the plague reached the coastal cities of Egypt, moving to the populations bathed by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and even reaching Europe.

It is estimated that between 25 and 50 million human beings lost their lives as a result of this pandemic, which was divided into three large waves. So lethal were the effects of the disease that a city as prosperous as Constantinople saw its population reduced by 40%. Furthermore, the Emperor Justinian himself was affected by the plague, although he eventually managed to overcome the disease.

The social and economic effects were shocking. Entire populations were decimated by the pandemic, reaching cases in which the number of deaths exceeded the number of survivors. In such a context, the countryside was abandoned and agriculture was paralyzed, trade plummeted (especially ivory) and, with economic activity seriously affected, tax collection plummeted.

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The black plague

One of the worst pandemics in the world corresponds to the Black Death. Between 1346 and 1353, this disease kept a large part of the world’s population in check, especially due to the speed with which it spread. In fact, the most pessimistic estimates estimate that 200 million died as a result of the Black Death.

To find its origin you have to go to Asia. Its expansion was due to the arrival of infected people to the port town of Messina, in Sicily. However, it would take several centuries to discover the root of this disease, which was found in rats.

As in the current COVID-19 pandemic, Italy would be one of the worst affected areas. A clear example is Tuscany, where between 50% and 60% of its inhabitants perished as a result of the Black Death.

The disease brought with it horrifying consequences, leaving population centers completely depopulated. The survivors, terrified, left the cities trying to flee from the disease. Under these circumstances, agricultural production fell dramatically. Furthermore, faced with such mortality rates, European demography would not recover from such a blow until the 15th century.

Smallpox in the New World

The discovery of America, and its subsequent conquest by the European powers, allowed the spread of smallpox in the New World. It was a highly contagious disease for which indigenous populations were not immunized.

We are talking about a disease with a lethality of 30%, although, in certain indigenous populations, mortality reached 80% and even 90%. The peak of infections was found in the 18th century, which coincided with significant population growth, which contributed to the spread of the disease.

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In the fight against smallpox, vaccines would prove to be a key element. In this sense, it is worth highlighting the great effectiveness of the vaccine created by the British Edward Jenner. Jenner’s work, and ultimately a major vaccination campaign in the 20th century, brought an end to smallpox.

The 1918 flu

Against the backdrop of World War I, one of the deadliest pandemics mankind has ever known was unleashed. Originating in the United States, it ended up spreading rapidly throughout Europe, causing between 21 and 50 million deaths.

The arrival of American soldiers in the European trenches contributed to the spread of the so-called “Spanish flu”. Although the origin of the virus was not Spanish, it received that name because Spain, by not taking part in the First World War, was one of the countries that approached the pandemic with greater information transparency.

The world would have to wait until 1920 for the “Spanish flu” to subside. In that two-year interval, the health tragedy and the economic tragedy went hand in hand. As a result of the great expansion of the virus, economic activity stopped, massive layoffs followed and consumption plummeted. It would take until the 1920s to return to the path of economic prosperity.

COVID-19: a great new challenge

At the end of 2019, a new virus broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan: COVID-19. The speed of transmission of the coronavirus surprised not only China, but the whole world. Already in March 2020, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a pandemic situation, a large part of the world population was confined. And, the current great geographical mobility was decisive in the rapid spread of the virus.

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More than 100 million people around the world have been infected with COVID-19, and the numbers of new infections continue to rise. Although the first vaccines are already available, it will take time to immunize a large part of the world’s population.

The economic effects of the last major pandemic have been felt in the short term and, unfortunately, will also be felt in the long term. The interruption of economic activity caused a sharp drop in production levels, the bankruptcy of numerous companies, massive layoffs and a general impoverishment of society. Therefore, it will be essential for the state to come to the rescue of the economy, stimulating aggregate demand to avoid an even greater economic collapse.

In any case, the different pandemics have common elements. Among these shared traits we find sharp declines in production, large declines in the workforce, a collapse in investments, the impoverishment of society and an increase in savings in the face of an uncertain economic horizon.

A situation that in the future, most likely, we cannot avoid, but, taking into account the information we have, we can anticipate and take measures, with a constant reinforcement of our health systems, to progressively reduce the impact of these natural disasters.

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