Not all humans fear death? After all the strong presence of religious belief in most people’s minds has largely worked to glorify it and to a large extent turned it into something desirable. However, there is one thing that petrifies even the most ardent lovers of glorious demise and that is Disease, for it is something that every human being dreads. Amongst the large number of ranking criterion possible for diseases, I was compelled to use prolificacy, so here it goes:
The single greatest killer of humans in history, this malady has existed as long as mankind. In its present form, Malaria established a stronghold in Western Africa perhaps around 5000 years ago and gradually spread around the world. At its peak at the turn of the 20th century, it had decimated around 300 million globally in the past 100 years. Although malaria has now been virtually wiped out from Europe and Americas, it still accounts for more than a million deaths per annum; a vast majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Smallpox didn’t just kill, it wiped off entire cultures. Extremely contagious and lethal especially for children, most Smallpox survivors were left with characteristic facial scars, hence the term ’Pockmarked’. It reached its peak in the 20th century and is estimated to have killed up to 500 million people, despite the fact that a vaccine had been developed by Edward Jenner in 1796. However, a massive global eradication campaign initiated in the 1950s proved successful and by 1980, the world was declared Smallpox free.
3. Spanish Flu
Most of us dismiss flu as a commonly mild ailment but in its deadliest Spanish form, it killed anywhere between 50 to 100 million people. This fatal pandemic ravaged world populations during the war years of 1918-1919 and disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared; only after 18 months of action. However during that period, “La Grippe” had laid claim to being the most deadly pandemic in the history of mankind.
Tuberculosis or Consumption as it was historically known has been a consistent killer. Although it has resulted in around 100 million fatalities in the 20th century, the mortality rates have been steadily falling down, owing to advancements in treatment. However, it still accounts for around 1.5 millions deaths each year and along with its cousin the Whooping Cough, remains a leading cause of human demise.
5. Black Death
The Black Death or Bubonic Plague was a pandemic of history shaping proportions. Originating from Asia in the early 14th century, it devastated up to 60 % of the European population; a total of around 100 million people. Grim illustrations of people covered in buboes have become synonymous with the middle ages. The massive outbreak and resultant death toll also served to dent the faith healing myths and enticed intellectuals into researching scientific cures for diseases. Somewhat worryingly, the exact microbial cause of the pandemic has not been determined yet so a future occurrence might still be possible.
Barring a cure, AIDS will some day climb up to the top of this list. This consequence of collective human sin has taken 25 million victims since it emerged in 1981. 40 million people are currently living with the infection and 14,000 are added every day. Sadly, AIDS is far from being the biggest current global problem with the most attention and capital being dedicated towards securing economies and fighting terrorists.
A disease associated with the quality and cleanliness of food and water, Cholera has predictably taken its toll on the third world. It has a low mortality rate when taken care of but if left untreated, it is likely to dehumanize the victim before death. Cholera epidemics have historically occurred with regularity and have taken more than 40 millions victims, with the death toll for a current epidemic in Zimbabwe surpassing 3000.
Another cleanliness associated malady, typhus epidemics tend to follow wars and natural disasters, when generally the sanitation and hygiene standards go down. It is transmitted by lice and was thus common in congested environments like jail, barracks etc. Typhus was especially notorious for it effects on armies and was the main reason for Napoleon?s retreat from Russia. An epidemic in Eastern Europe during World War I took 3 million, but the disease was controlled with the development of a vaccine during World War II. Sporadic outbreaks however still occur in developing countries to date.
Another cleanliness associated malady, typhus epidemics tend to follow wars and natural disasters, when generally the sanitation and hygiene standards go down. It is transmitted by lice and was thus common in congested environments like jail, barracks etc. Typhus was especially notorious for it effects on armies and was the main reason for Napoleon’s retreat from Russia. An epidemic in Eastern Europe during World War I took 3 million, but the disease was controlled with the development of a vaccine during World War II. Sporadic outbreaks however still occur in developing countries to date.
10. Scarlet Fever
Although it is rarely fatal today, Scarlet Fever is one of the worst child killers in history. In 1860s, the mortality rate from Scarlet Fever was as high as 972 per million. Throughout the 19th century, pandemics frequently swept across Europe causing as many as 25 % of all recorded deaths during the period.