Number of deaths
Sorted by
Sorted by
Influenza was responsible for some of the deadliest pandemics of the 20th century. Diseases like Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, while killing a higher percentage of people infected, do not spread as easily and have led to far fewer deaths. Smallpox was eliminated in 1977, and polio is now endemic in just three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ebola is highly deadly: between 50-90 percent of those infected lose their lives.

HIV, which once led to almost certain death from AIDS, can now be effectively managed by antiretroviral therapy - though many people living with HIV lack access to the treatment.
The world has watched in fear as more than 5,000 people have died of the Ebola virus since February.

No cure has been found to treat Ebola, which is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. The World Health Organization recently said the virus’ spread is out of control. That said, Ebola is not nearly as contagious as infectious airborne diseases such as influenza, commonly known as the flu. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 infected an estimated one-quarter of humans alive at the time.

Below, see how the ongoing Ebola outbreak compares with other major epidemics of the past century. This does not purport to be a comprehensive list.
More deadly
Less deadly
*HIV/AIDS is not included because its deadliness has varied greatly from when the pandemic began – when nearly all those infected died - to today, when access to treatment has made it a chronic disease.
Influenza - "Spanish flu" (1918, worldwide)
50-70 million deaths
How it's spread
- Airborne
- Waterborne
- Contact with bodily fluid
- Unknown
HIV/AIDS (1981-present, worldwide)
36 million deaths
Influenza - "Asian flu" (1957 - 58, worldwide)
2 million deaths
Influenza - "Hong Kong flu" (1968 - 69, worldwide)
1 million deaths
Influenza - "Swine flu" (2009, worldwide)
284,500 deaths
2-3 %
of those infected
0.02 %
of those infected
70 %
Has killed
of those infected
34.77 %
Has killed
of those infected
1.22 %
Has killed
of those infected
0.2 %
of those infected
0.2 %
of those infected
24.4 %
of those infected
5.46 %
of those infected
88 %
of those infected
9.56 %
of those infected
Smallpox (1974, India)
15,000 deaths
Cholera (2010 - present, Haiti)
8,330 deaths
Polio (1952, US)
3,145 deaths
Ebola (2014 - present, West Africa)
4,447 deaths
SARS (2002 - 03, mostly China)
774 deaths
MERS (2012 - present, mostly Middle East)
291 deaths
Ebola (1976, DR Congo)
Influenza -
"Spanish flu" (1918, worldwide)
Influenza -
"Asian flu"
(1957 - 58, worldwide)
Influenza -
"Hong Kong flu"
(1968 - 69, worldwide)
Influenza -
"Swine flu"
(2009, worldwide)
(1974, India)
(2010 - present, Haiti)
(1952, US)
(2014 - present, West Africa)
(2002 - 03, mostly China)
(2012 - present, mostly Middle East)
(1976, DR Congo)
280 deaths
Just how deadly is it?
Over the past century, advances in medical science have led to much lower death rates for many diseases, and the extinction or near-extinction of smallpox and polio.

However, relatively new infectious diseases such as Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) lack a known cure. And some medical experts worry that humans’ increased mobility – especially by air travel – could cause epidemics to spread more quickly and widely than they had in the past.
World Health Organization
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Biotechnology Information
Virus images are digital representations.
Artists: Dream Designs, Festa, Decade3d, Creations.
Mask by Luis Prado from the Noun Project
Drop by Fernando Vasconcelos from the Noun Project
Drip by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project