Historical Epidemic and Pandemic

An epidemic happens when a region or a community all get sick with the same disease. A pandemic happens when the disease spreads across a large area such as worldwide.

Epidemics and pandemics happen for many different reasons such as contaminated drinking water or food, war and natural disasters, new diseases and more.

A pandemic happens when an epidemic gets out of control.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization or the WHO help to keep up with the different epidemic or pandemics that have happened across the world.

The WHO defines a Pandemic as a global outbreak. An epidemic and a pandemic are spread by viruses or bacteria that have spread.


There have been many epidemics throughout history that have spread through many populations and have killed millions of people.

When a disease happens in an area, even a large area, this is called an epidemic.

Plague of Athens

In 430 BC, there was a plague that lasted 3 years and it started in the two biggest cities in Athens and Sparta.

This happened during the Peloponnesian War and it killed more than 20% of all the people that lived in Athens, including one of their leaders, Pericles.

No one is quite sure what the disease was, but historians believe it was Typhoid Fever.

Justinian Plague

Between 541 AD and 542 AD, the Byzantine Empire was affected by the Bubonic Plague. Around 5,000 people died from this, even the emperor, Emperor Justinian, but he survived the disease.

The disease continued for 200 years and killed millions of people.


In order for a sickness to be called a pandemic, it has to be globally or across the world and it has to affect a person and the person has to show symptoms.

There are two types of pandemics such as virulence which means how the sick person is infected and how sick they get and morality which means how many people die after getting the disease.

History of Pandemics

There are quite a few historical pandemics that were caused by the spreading of a virus and these sicknesses spread worldwide.

Black Death

The Black Death is considered one of the deadliest pandemics in the history of medicine. This pandemic killed millions of people all a round the world.

The Black Death was the Bubonic Plague, but people did not know that at the time.

Bubonic Plague

The Bubonic Plague is another pandemic that is caused by viruses.

This disease is caused by bacteria which infects rat fleas and when people get bitten by the flea that had bitten an infected rat, the Bubonic Plague spread.


Cholera is another pandemic that is spread by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated mostly by feces.

The Cholera outbreak has happened more than 5 times and killed millions of people.


Influenza or the flu is also considered a pandemic. This pandemic has happened 4 different times and the four different flu pandemics are the Russian Flu, the Spanish Flu, the Asian Flu and the Hong Kong Flu.

Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu was a flu virus that spread in 1918 and killed 50-100 million people but made millions more people very sick.

This type of flu was called the Spanish Flu because the people in Spain were hit by the disease harder than people from other areas.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever was a pandemic that was spread by mosquito bites, the Aedes mosquito was the main cause.

It was mostly found in the tropical jungles, but a huge outbreak happened in Memphis and this is when it became a pandemic.


Smallpox is another pandemic that spread throughout the world. The Smallpox virus was brought to the Americas from the Europeans in the 1400s and this caused millions of people to die.

The virus causes people to have a large rash and blisters and those that survived the Smallpox pandemic are still left with scars.

Facts About the History of Epidemics and Pandemics

  • There are other major pandemic diseases such as typhus.
  • HIV is a pandemic that is still around today.
  • Some diseases that were a pandemic, can still kill people today, such as cholera, from drinking bad water or eating bad food.
  • Today, the Bubonic Plague can be treated with antibiotic.
  • When the Black Death happened, it ended because so many people died that the disease died out.
  • It is important to learn about Epidemics and Pandemics so that we can be aware of sicknesses and how to prevent them.

What Did You Learn?

  • What is a disease that spreads worldwide? A disease that spreads worldwide is called a pandemic.
  • What was the empire that was affected by the Justinian Plague? The Byzantine Empire was affected by the Justinian Plague, even the emperor had this plague, but he was able to survive.
  • Who was the leader from Athens that was killed by the Plague of Athens? Pericles died from the Plague of Athens, which was most likely Typhoid Fever.
  • What was the disease that caused Black Death, but it was not discovered that it was the same thing at first? The Bubonic Plague is what caused the Black Death. This was discovered many years after the disease broke out.
  • What caused people to get Black Death? People got black death from being bit by fleas that were infected from infected rats.