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Which microbial disease has killed the most humans and how many?

Which microbial disease has killed the most humans and how many?
Stephen Kluczewski from Cheshire (Age: 45-54)

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6 Responses

  1. Until accurate statistics were kept of causes of death, it was impossible to quantify the number of deaths from particular diseases. The world’s first system of recording national vital statistics was not started until 1836 when the Registration Act provided for the compilation of detailed annual reports on the causes of death in England and Wales. However, causes of death could be recorded in imprecise ways especially before the new science of microbiology of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries began to provide reliable diagnostic tests. All this makes it impossible to state which microbial diseases have killed the most people.

    However, at different times in history, particular diseases have been major killers especially in times of epidemic: bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis. The viral infection of influenza has also been the focus of major epidemics and pandemics as in 1918 at the end of the First World War.

    Kevin Brown
    Trust Archivist & Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum Curator
    Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
    St Mary’s Hospital
    Praed Street
    London W2 1NY
    http://www.imperial.nhs.uk
    http://www.st-marys.nhs.uk/fleming_museum.html
    http://www.st-marys.nhs.uk/experts.html
    Penicillin Man, Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution by Kevin Brown, 2004, is published by Sutton Publishing (ISBN 0-7509-3152-3; Paperback edition, 2005, ISBN 0-7509-3153-1). The Pox: the Life and Near Death of a Very Social Disease, 2006 (ISBN 0-7509-40417) is also published by Sutton. He is currently working on Fighting Fit: Health, Medicine and War in the Twentieth-Century. He is available to lecture on these and other topics in the history of medicine

  2. I would guess that, in history, Yersinia, the plague has killed the biggest proportion of people
    but TB is one of the biggest microbial killers currently

  3. This isn’t an easy question to answer as most deaths ocurred in the Middle Ages when records are hard to come by. Effectively there have two major bacterial diseases which everyone has heard of and which killed millions of people world wide.

    The plague caused by Yersinia pestis ravaged Europe in the middle ages and reputedly killed around 35% of the population. Subsequent epidemics will have added to this total.

    Cholera caused by Vibrio cholerae has led to millions of deaths worldwide and probably has killed more than the plague as it is still a problem.

    WIth the advent of antibiotics diseases sucha s above became controllable. However things like childhood diarrhoea caused predominantly by strains of Escherichia coli transmitted through contaminated water kills 5 million under fives annually.

    Away from bacteria, Malaria kills millions annually. Viruses such as flu have also killed millions. HIV is a big killer.

    If I had to choose then I would choose Escherichia coli. Sadly this can easily be controlled simply by having a clean water supply for everyone. Support Water AId and that will help cut these numbers down very quickly

  4. Dear Stephen,

    I do not disagree with anything written by Anonymous or Ken. The current big three worldwide killers are malaria (a protist) tuberculosis (a bacterium) and HIV (a virus). However, it is also perhaps worth considering the indirect effect of infectious agents on human health. The most common cause of death throughout human history is famine. Crop failure can often be due to plant diseases, for instance potato blight, ergotism due to smut disease of rye and rice blast. There are also important infectious diseases of domestic animals. It is difficult to get the data but is not beyond the bounds of reason that plant pathogens have been responsible for more human deaths than human pathogens.

    Ken’s comment about clean water is very well made. More lives were saved in Britain by Joseph Bazalgette and the other civil engineers who created our sewerage systems and water treatment plants, than antibiotics or all the hospitals combined. So if you want to save mankind do not become a physician but rather a civil engineer or an agronomist (I am neither)

    Regards

    David

  5. I would agree with David, the big three; malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, although the later one is a recent addition. To give you some idea , more people die from malaria (mainly children under the age of 5) , than have been killed in all the wars and conflicts collectively . This equates to 2 or 3 children dying by the time you have read this. Makes you think ……..if this was happening in our own country, there would be a lot more pressure of governments and pharmaceutical companies to do something about.

  6. i think that you are all right because third world countries are easier to get disease due to lack of medication

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