We just published a new central hub dedicated to covering pandemics on Our World in Data. We will gather there all of our past and future writing, charts, and data explorers on the subject. You can find it here.

Along with it, weʼve published a new article: What were the death tolls from pandemics in history? 

COVID-19 has brought the reality of pandemics to the forefront of public consciousness. But pandemics have afflicted humanity for millennia. Time and again, people faced outbreaks of diseases – including influenza, cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, and measles – that spread far and caused death and devastation.

Our ancestors were largely powerless against these diseases and unable to evaluate their true toll on the population. Without good record-keeping of the number of cases and deaths, the impact of outbreaks was underrecognized or even forgotten. The result is that we tend to underestimate the frequency and severity of pandemics in history.

To deal with the lack of historical records on total death tolls, modern historians, epidemiologists, and demographic researchers have used various sources and methods to estimate their death tolls – such as using data from death records, tax registers, land use, archaeological records, epidemiological modeling, and more.

In this article, we have compiled published estimates of the death tolls from pandemics in history. We have visualized them in a timeline below. 

These estimates were made by researchers using various methods, and they come with uncertainties, which are explained in the article.

The size of each circle represents one pandemic’s estimated death toll. Pandemics without a known death toll are depicted with triangles.

Read the whole article here.




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Brilliant work, as always; thank you! It is great to easily access these graphs and the infographic for future "intro to biosecurity" or similar presentations. 

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