Pandemic Facts: 25 Frightening Facts About Pandemics From History

1Black Death

The Black Death was personified by an old woman carrying a rake and a broom. If she used the rake, some would survive in between the teeth of the rake. If she used the broom the whole population of an area would die.

2John Snow

John Snow, who found the cause of cholera during the height of an epidemic, proved his findings by halting an entire outbreak through one action, removing the infected water pump handle.

3Yellow Fever Epidemic

During the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, many black citizens, widely believed to be immune to the disease, volunteered to deal with the dead and dying as white citizens fled the city. The immunity seems to have not actually existed, and blacks died at the same rates as whites.

4Sleeping Sickness

There was a pandemic in the early 20th century that caused life-long stupor and Parkinsonism in survivors, with many sleeping during the day and waking at night. It resulted in the deaths of millions of people worldwide. It was called the “Sleeping Sickness” and the causative agent behind this pandemic has never been found.

51952 Polio Epidemic

During the 1952 polio epidemic in Denmark, the mortality rate was over 85% due to a shortage of respirators. Dr. Bjorn Ibsen invented a new kind of ventilator, proved it worked, and then recruited thousands of volunteers to hand-pump them for weeks (they were fully manual). Due to his invention, the mortality rate fell to 26%.


During the Black Death, incoming ships were forced to wait for 40 days to prevent possible infection. The Italian word for 40, “quaranta”, is where we get the word “quarantine.”

7John Martin Poyer

During the 1918 flu pandemic, the Governor of American Samoa John Martin Poyer quarantined the territory. American Samoa was one of the few places in the world to not suffer any flu deaths.

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8Black Death

The Black Death resulted in a stronger and longer-living human population. Scientists examined the bones of those who died before and after the plague and determined that people who were born after were stronger and more fit.

9Safety Coffins

During the cholera epidemic of the 19th century ‘safety coffins’ were developed because of people’s fear of being buried alive when they lapsed into a deathlike state from cholera.

101918 Flu Pandemic

During the 1918 flu pandemic, 62 Boston prisoners volunteered to be injected with infected tissue and sprayed with infectious aerosols with a promise of release if they survived. All of the prisoners lived, but the ward doctor died soon after.


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