25 Deadliest Diseases in Human History

As violent as we can be towards one another, throughout history, the biggest executioner of the human race has been deadly disease. Whether it was the Black Death in 14th century Europe or Ebola in present day Africa, the loss of human life and cost to society has been astronomical. These are the 25 deadliest diseases in human history.

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This infection of the small intestine is transmitted primarily by drinking water or eating food containing the feces of an infected person. Worldwide, about 5 million people are affected and over 100,000 die from Cholera every year.



small pox

After the vaccination campaigns of the 20th century, smallpox has become one of two infectious diseases that have been declared as completely eradicated (the other being rinderpest). However, prior to vaccination, small pox claimed an estimated 500 million lives in just the 20th century alone.


Yellow Fever

yellow fever mosquito

Transmitted by the bite of female mosquitoes, this disease is found in Africa and South America. It typically involves fever, chills, anorexia, nausea, muscle pain (with prominent backache) and headache, but in most cases subsides after several days. Due to warfare and social disruption across Africa, there has seen a resurgence since the ’80s.




Usually attacking the lungs, this disease is spread by airborne saliva. The classic symptoms of active tuberculosis infection are a chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Today some estimates put nearly one third of world down as having some form of tuberculosis.



spanish flu

Commonly known as the flu, influenza is usually transmitted through the air like tuberculosis but sometimes through direct contact with contaminated surfaces. Because the virus can be inactivated by soap, however, frequent hand washing reduces the risk of infection.


Lung Cancer


On a worldwide scale, lung cancer is the most common cancer-related death in men and women, responsible for 1.38 million deaths annually.



stomach pain

A common cause of death in third world countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide, the loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte disturbances such as potassium deficiency or other salt imbalances.


Perinatal Complications


Each year, about 500,000 women die worldwide from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, including severe bleeding/hemorrhaging, infections, unsafe abortions, obstructed labor and eclampsia. More than 90 percent of maternal deaths occur in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.


Whooping Cough

vapo cresolene

Technically known as Pertussis, this highly infectious disease is known in some countries as the “cough of 100 days.” It’s estimated that the disease affects 48.5 million people yearly, resulting in nearly 295,000 deaths.



ebola isolation

Deriving its name from the Ebola River in Republic of the Congo, where it was first found, its victims typically suffer fevers, muscle weakness, and other symptoms that progress to severe bleeding, both internal and external, that eventually causes them to bleed to death. Unfortunately, there is no treatment as of yet. Most of us remember a few years back when there was one of the worst outbreaks in history, with some cases popping up even in the US.


Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

avian flu

Although we’ve already covered influenza as a whole, certain strains adapt to a particular host, in this case birds. Most human contractions of the avian flu are a result of either handling dead infected birds or from contact with infected fluids. For this reason, there have been large outbreaks in heavily agricultural parts of Asia and Africa.



rusty nail foot
Tetanus is a medical condition characterized by a prolonged contraction of skeletal muscle fibers. Infection generally occurs through wound contamination and often involves a cut or deep puncture wound. As the infection progresses, muscle spasms develop in the jaw (thus the name “lockjaw”) and elsewhere in the body.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease


Often abbreviated as COPD, this disease is caused by noxious particles or gas, most commonly from tobacco smoking, that trigger an abnormal inflammatory response in the lung. Worldwide, COPD is projected to become the fourth leading cause of death by 2030 due to an increase in smoking rates and demographic changes in many countries.


Ischemic Heart Disease

heart attack

Basically, this is a fancy way of saying heart attacks (or at least the factors that predispose individuals to them). By some estimates, 1 in 3 people are said to die from heart disease.




Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation may be caused by infection and less commonly by certain drugs. The most common symptoms are headache and neck stiffness associated with fever, confusion or altered consciousness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate light or loud noises.


Influenza A-H1N1 (Swine Flu)


Although it has been declared by the WHO as officially over, swine flu was yet another deadly and contagious strain the influenza virus.



syphilis poster

This sexually transmitted disease is believed to infect roughly 12 million people annually, with more than 90% of cases in the developing world. Symptoms include everything from rashes to heart problems. Sometimes it can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages, which makes early treatment difficult.


Lower Respiratory Infections

lung xray

There are two types of lower respiratory infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. Some common symptoms of these infections are runny nose and sneezing, headache, and sore throat. Although in most western countries these diseases are not fatal, in the developed world, a lower respiratory infection can easily be lethal.


Cerebrovascular Disease


Basically a fancy way of saying stroke, this happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted because a blood vessel is blocked or bursts open.


Bubonic Plague

plague dr

Known as a zoonotic disease, circulating mainly among small rodents and their fleas, without treatment the bubonic plague kills about two thirds of infected humans within 4 days.




A viral respiratory disease in humans, the last known case of the outbreak occurred in June 2003. SARS is not claimed to have been eradicated, however, as it may still be present in its natural host reservoirs (animal populations) and may return to the human population.




This chronic disease has had a long history of making its victims social pariahs due to the way it deforms the surface of the skin. Although these days treatments have been discovered, in many parts of the developing world, leper colonies are still very prevalent.




Measles is spread through respiration and is highly contagious as roughly 90% of people sharing living space with an infected person will catch it. While the vast majority of patients survive measles, complications occur fairly frequently, and may include bronchitis, and panencephalitis, which is potentially fatal.




As many people know, HIV is the virus that can lead to AIDS if not aggressively kept in check. It causes progressive failure of the immune system and allows life-threatening infections and cancers to thrive. Since its discovery, AIDS has caused well over 30 million deaths.



malaria don'ts

This mosquito born infectious disease causes symptoms that typically include fever and headache, which in severe cases can progress to coma or death. It is found primarily in the tropics and as of yet there is no effective vaccination.

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