Humanity has survived many deadly diseases throughout history, thanks to discoveries and breakthroughs in the medical field. Unfortunately, bacteria and viruses also capable of mutating and adapting to the drugs and treatments that have been developed.

Infectious diseases are known to be a major threat to humankind, because once an outbreak occurs – a lot of resources are needed to contain and manage the outbreak. Needless to say, without proper planning and action, a single outbreak can easily escalate into a world crisis.

These are some of deadliest diseases in the history that have managed to be controlled.


Thought to be around for 20 million years, malaria is considered as one of the oldest diseases that have remained present until now. Nowadays, the disease is present in almost 100 countries and nearly half of the human population is at risk of being infected globally.

In 2012 alone, malaria infected 207 million of people around the world and nearly 0.3% of those infected end in death. Despite many efforts taken by health organisations around the world, the number remains consistent, and as of 2015, 212 million cases were recorded, most of which were in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that year, 303,000 of African children died before their fifth birthday.

Despite these numbers in recent years, cases of malaria were in fact reduced by 29% across all age groups and by 35% for children under five years old since 2010. The use of the long-lasting insecticidal net and indoor spraying with insecticide is proven to be effective and is recommended by WHO to prevent the spread of this disease.

However, a few concerns arose due to reported Artemisinin resistance in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In addition, there were also reported cases of pyrethroid resistance which had been used in vector control of the mosquito. Fortunately, this resistance is rarely associated with decreased efficacy of long-lasting insecticidal nets.


First reported cases of HIV were in 1981, in five men in Los Angeles. By the end of the year, there was 121 cases of mortality out of 270 cases. Since its discovery, HIV has been infecting 75 million people globally and causing 36 million of deaths.

Many discoveries of powerful antiviral drugs have made possible for the patient to live normally, although a cure is yet to be found. Most often, HIV patients die from an infection due to their weak immune system.


Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. In 1980, before a vaccination was available, measles caused 2.6 million mortalities each year. However, due to the rigorous efforts of vaccination during 2000 to 2015, the number of deaths dropped by 79% from 651,600 to 134,200.

Despite the availability of a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine, measles remains a leading cause of death in young children worldwide. This disease is common in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. Additionally, most deaths attributed to measles occur in low-income countries and in areas with weak health infrastructure.


Leprosy was first found in 1873 by Dr. G.A. Hansen, thus, also known as Hansen’s disease. Over the years, this disease still makes patients social outcasts due to the nature of the disease albeit people no longer considered this disease related to religion anymore.

In 2015, 210,758 of leprosy cases were reported in 106 countries. Most of these cases came from India, Brazil, and Indonesia. Last year, WHO had called for a rigorous effort to reduce the burden of this disease.

Since the introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) in 1995, more than 16 million patients have been treated. MDT is a simple yet effective treatment that is able to cure all types of leprosy. Despite the effectiveness of this treatment, the problem still lies in early detection of the disease and prevention of its transmission.


SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome first occurred in Guangdong Province, China in November 2002. However, the late relay of information led to the delayed response against this disease globally.

The disease had spread to more than 26 countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was controlled. The last human chain of transmission was broken on 5 July 2003. In more than a year of the outbreak, SARS infected 8,098 people worldwide and killed 774 of those infected.

The SARS epidemic is considered one the four biggest outbreaks in this century. Although the disease has been fully contained, the easy transmission of the disease warrants that health organisations remain alert and vigilant for the re-emergence of this disease. MIMS 

5 of the world’s deadliest diseases in history

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