5.2 History of Pandemics

General Facts & Information on Pandemics

ceramic bust or head of bearded man wearing a black face mask
White ceramic sculpture with black mask.
  • As human civilizations grew, constructing cities and creating trade routes to connect those cities, the more likely pandemics became (History.com Editors, 2021). This is also true today, as increasing global connections and interactions (i.e., globalization) represent a driving force behind pandemics (LePan & Schell, 2020).
  • ¬†Healthcare advancements and improvements in understanding the factors that lead to pandemics have been progressively more effective in reducing the loss of life (LePan & Schell, 2020).
  • Most of the infectious diseases that lead to pandemics are caused by zoonotic pathogens that have been transmitted to humans due to increased contact with animals through: breeding, eating, hunting, global trade activities (Piret & Boivin, January 2021), deforestation and its impact on biodiversity (Morand & Lajaunie, 2021). As long as these practices persist, pandemics will continue to occur, and their likelihood will increase. In fact, it is estimated that “the probability of novel disease outbreaks will likely grow three-fold in the next few decades” (Penn, 2021, para. 8).
  • Pandemics and plagues of the past have been powerful change makers throughout history, shaping: politics; revolutions; war; entrenched racial- and economic-based discrimination; the redistribution of income and reduction of inequality; and societal world views (Chotiner, 2020; De Witte, 2020; Patterson et al., 2021).


Click the links below to learn more about the history of pandemics:

Visualizing the History of Pandemics

Pandemics That Changed History

As detailed in the Visualizing the History of Pandemics infographic above, there have been numerous pandemics in the history of human civilization. In the remainder of this chapter the focus will be on four notable pandemics due to either their large death rate and/or their occurrence in recent history. The pandemics explored include:

  • The Black Death in the 14th century
  • The Spanish Flu from 1918-1919
  • HIV/AIDS that first appeared in the early 1980s
  • COVID-19 that emerged in 2020

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On Death and Dying (Original) Copyright © 2022 by Jacqueline Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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