Beyond Ebola: Epidemics of the last 100 years

  • Red Cross volunteers fighting against the Spanish Flu epidemic in United States in 1918.
  • A boy uses an oxygen inhalator at an emergency hospital treating child polio victims in Hickory, N.C. on July 1, 1944.
  • A train attendant and passengers wear masks to ward off Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) at a railway station in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province, China, on May 16, 2003.
  • A government agricultural officer vaccinates a chicken in Medan, North Sumatera, Indonesia, June 7, 2006. Indonesia’s health minister said at the time she doesn’t know what else she can do to raise public awareness about the dangers of bird flu.
  • T.C. Weber receives an H1N1 shot at the Delany Medical Center on Nov. 11, 2009 in New York City. 
  • Medical assistant Diana Barajas, left, gives the Tdap vaccine for whooping cough to 3-month-old Briana Pedraza while her brother Andres, 4, and mother Ludibina Villegas look on at the Santa Rosa Community Health Center at Lombardi Court, Sept. 2, 2010, in Santa Rosa, Calif.
  • Community health educator Nanah Fofanah helps guide a man through a free oral HIV test inside the Whitman-Walker Health mobile testing vehicle on Feb. 7, 2013 in Washington, D.C. 


The worst Ebola outbreak in world history shows no signs of abating.

As of July 27, more than 700 people in western Africa have died as a result of the disease, out of a little more than 1,300 cases. The governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia have dispatched troops to enforce a quarantine of areas where the disease is spreading. Meanwhile a Saudi Arabian national in the city of Jiddah is being tested for Ebola, and at least two American victims have been transported back to medical facilities in the U.S. from main outbreak sites.

Although the current Ebola outbreak has broken records and caused immense human suffering, it isn’t likely to rank among the worst epidemics of the last 100 years. The H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009 is estimated to have claimed over 14,000 lives; in Haiti, a choleric outbreak starting in 2010 has killed more than 8,500 people. Even in the modern era, the sudden emergence of a fatal epidemic is far from a rare occurrence.

Click through the slideshow above to see images from some of the major epidemics of the past century.


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