Given below are 9 of the worst epidemics and pandemics that changed the 20th century bringing some nations to the brink of disaster and in some cases even total economic collapse. They filled people’s hearts and minds with despair and left them to their fate. Let’s have a sneak preview of them.
1) Manchurian plague: 1910-1911
In 1910, China began to report that a deadly and rare pneumonic plague had reached the extreme northeast of China in Harbin, then known as Manchuria. Although it was confined largely to the country’s northeastern areas, cases were reported throughout the empire, in Beijing, Tianjin and along the railway line of Beijing-Hankou stretching down into central China, thus reflecting the scale of the pandemic. It is difficult to obtain the exact statistics about the plague’s death toll; however, it was reported that around 60,000 died, with a mortality rate of 100%. This placed the death toll of the plague on par with that of the great plague of London.
2) Polio: 1916
Before Franklin Delano Roosevelt was struck with polio in 1916, the disease struck thousands in America, killing 6,000 people. During the pandemic, reports suggest that 9,000 cases happened in New York City, which resulted in quarantines. Polio would haunt the US for decades, afflicting thousands more each year. Twenty-five percent of the victims died in 1916 alone. In the 1950s Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine.
3) Flu pandemic: 1918-1919
The flu pandemic broke out during World War I, which was the deadliest pandemic, killing double the number of them who died in the war. Reports estimate that 500 million people became infected with the H1N1 virus and it originated in birds. Out of the 50 million cases, 675,000 in the U.S. alone died.
4) Russia typhus: 1918-1922
Typhus was a health problem in the early 20th century in Russia. Closely linked with overcrowded housing and poverty, this disease was endemic in both urban and rural areas, with small outbreaks and scattered cases occurring every year, mostly in early spring and winter. Great epidemics flared up whenever famine or war produced massive population movements and hardship. The worst typhus epidemics happened late in World War I and during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution. Typhus claimed 2 to 3 million lives until 1922.
5) Asian influenza: 1957
After the influenza of 1918, it went back to its normal pattern of epidemics of lesser virulence. In 1933, with the 1st case, speculation began about the role of a similar virus that happened in 1918. But it was difficult to determine that until the Asian influenza of 1957. For the 1st time, the global spread of an influenza virus was made available for laboratory investigation. The public was confronted by the pandemic with which it had no experience. It was proven that even without any bacterial co-invaders, the virus alone, was lethal.
6) Hong Kong flu pandemic: 1968
The 1st case of Hong Kong flu pandemic was in Hong Kong in 1968. Outbreaks occurred in Vietnam and Singapore and within 12 weeks it spread to as far as South America and Africa. In the US, about 100,000 died. What gave rise to the H3N2 variation was a process called the antigenic shift, in which the virus of the earlier Asian flu in 1956 mutated. The death rate was lower than in previous outbreaks, with a ratio below 0.5%. Those who were earlier exposed to the pandemic became immune to this virus. The availability of antibiotics and improved medical care have been the factors for its slower spread. This virus is still in circulation these days as the seasonal influenza virus.
7) Smallpox: 1974
In 1974, India was struck with the worst smallpox epidemics. Between January and May, 15,000 died from smallpox and many were left maimed for life. The authorities made attempts to prevents its further spread and contain the disease. The last case of smallpox was recorded on May 24 in the year 1975. However, the disease was completely eradicated 5 years later.
8) West Africa meningitis: 1996
A severe epidemic of meningococcal meningitis happened in Nigeria in 1996. There were 109,580 recorded cases and 11,717 deaths, giving a case fatality rate of 10.7% overall. It was the most serious epidemic ever recorded in Nigeria, and the largest in. It took 3 months and the efforts of a task force set up by the WHO, the Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières, UNDP, the International Red Cross and many other non-governmental entities to bring it under control. The main measures centered on mass vaccination, active treatment of infected persons, and health education.
9) Malaysia Nipah virus: 1998-1999
The Nipah Malaysia virus outbreak resulted in 265 cases of encephalitis with the fall of the pig-farming industry and 105 deaths. Because it was at the initial phase attributed to Japanese encephalitis, early measures were ineffective, and it spread to the whole of Malaysia and nearby Singapore. What led to the outbreak control 2 months later was the isolation of the Nipah virus, the aetiological agent, from the cerebrospinal fluid of a victim.