The History of Pandemics
Pan·dem·ic /panˈdemik/ (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.
As humans have spread across the world, so have infectious diseases. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as COVID-19 has.
Today’s visualization outlines some of history’s most deadly pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the current COVID-19 event.
A Timeline of Historical Pandemics
Disease and illnesses have plagued humanity since the earliest days, our mortal flaw. However, it was not until the marked shift to agrarian communities that the scale and spread of these diseases increased dramatically.
Widespread trade created new opportunities for human and animal interactions that sped up such epidemics. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others first appeared during these early years.
The more civilized humans became – with larger cities, more exotic trade routes, and increased contact with different populations of people, animals, and ecosystems – the more likely pandemics would occur.
Here are some of the major pandemics that have occurred over time:
|Name||Time period||Type / Pre-human host||Death toll|
|Antonine Plague||165-180||Believed to be either smallpox or measles||5M|
|Japanese smallpox epidemic||735-737||Variola major virus||1M|
|Plague of Justinian||541-542||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||30-50M|
|Black Death||1347-1351||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||200M|
|New World Smallpox Outbreak||1520 – onwards||Variola major virus||56M|
|Great Plague of London||1665||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||100,000|
|Italian plague||1629-1631||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||1M|
|Cholera Pandemics 1-6||1817-1923||V. cholerae bacteria||1M+|
|Third Plague||1885||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||12M (China and India)|
|Yellow Fever||Late 1800s||Virus / Mosquitoes||100,000-150,000 (U.S.)|
|Russian Flu||1889-1890||Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin)||1M|
|Spanish Flu||1918-1919||H1N1 virus / Pigs||40-50M|
|Asian Flu||1957-1958||H2N2 virus||1.1M|
|Hong Kong Flu||1968-1970||H3N2 virus||1M|
|HIV/AIDS||1981-present||Virus / Chimpanzees||25-35M|
|Swine Flu||2009-2010||H1N1 virus / Pigs||200,000|
|SARS||2002-2003||Coronavirus / Bats, Civets||770|
|Ebola||2014-2016||Ebolavirus / Wild animals||11,000|
|MERS||2015-Present||Coronavirus / Bats, camels||850|
|COVID-19||2019-Present||Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins)||848K (Johns Hopkins University estimate as of 10:28am PT, Aug 31, 2020)|
Despite the persistence of disease and pandemics throughout history, there’s one consistent trend over time – a gradual reduction in the death rate. Healthcare improvements and understanding the factors that incubate pandemics have been powerful tools in mitigating their impact.
Wrath of the Gods
In many ancient societies, people believed that spirits and gods inflicted disease and destruction upon those that deserved their wrath. This unscientific perception often led to disastrous responses that resulted in the deaths of thousands, if not millions.
In the case of Justinian’s plague, the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea traced the origins of the plague (the Yersinia pestis bacteria) to China and northeast India, via land and sea trade routes to Egypt where it entered the Byzantine Empire through Mediterranean ports.
Despite his apparent knowledge of the role geography and trade played in this spread, Procopius laid blame for the outbreak on the Emperor Justinian, declaring him to be either a devil, or invoking God’s punishment for his evil ways. Some historians found that this event could have dashed Emperor Justinian’s efforts to reunite the Western and Eastern remnants of the Roman Empire, and marked the beginning of the Dark Ages.
Luckily, humanity’s understanding of the causes of disease has improved, and this is resulting in a drastic improvement in the response to modern pandemics, albeit slow and incomplete.
The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century, in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Cautious port authorities required ships arriving in Venice from infected ports to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing — the origin of the word quarantine from the Italian “quaranta giorni”, or 40 days.
One of the first instances of relying on geography and statistical analysis was in mid-19th century London, during a cholera outbreak. In 1854, Dr. John Snow came to the conclusion that cholera was spreading via tainted water and decided to display neighborhood mortality data directly on a map. This method revealed a cluster of cases around a specific pump from which people were drawing their water from.
While the interactions created through trade and urban life play a pivotal role, it is also the virulent nature of particular diseases that indicate the trajectory of a pandemic.
Scientists use a basic measure to track the infectiousness of a disease called the reproduction number — also known as R0 or “R naught.” This number tells us how many susceptible people, on average, each sick person will in turn infect.
Measles tops the list, being the most contagious with a R0 range of 12-18. This means a single person can infect, on average, 12 to 18 people in an unvaccinated population.
While measles may be the most virulent, vaccination efforts and herd immunity can curb its spread. The more people are immune to a disease, the less likely it is to proliferate, making vaccinations critical to prevent the resurgence of known and treatable diseases.
It’s hard to calculate and forecast the true impact of COVID-19, as the outbreak is still ongoing and researchers are still learning about this new form of coronavirus.
Urbanization and the Spread of Disease
We arrive at where we began, with rising global connections and interactions as a driving force behind pandemics. From small hunting and gathering tribes to the metropolis, humanity’s reliance on one another has also sparked opportunities for disease to spread.
Urbanization in the developing world is bringing more and more rural residents into denser neighborhoods, while population increases are putting greater pressure on the environment. At the same time, passenger air traffic nearly doubled in the past decade. These macro trends are having a profound impact on the spread of infectious disease.
As organizations and governments around the world ask for citizens to practice social distancing to help reduce the rate of infection, the digital world is allowing people to maintain connections and commerce like never before.
Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 pandemic is in its early stages and it is obviously impossible to predict its future impact. This post and infographic are meant to provide historical context, and we will continue to update it as time goes on to maintain its accuracy.
Update (March 15, 2020): We’ve adjusted the death toll for COVID-19, and will continue to update on a regular basis.
Visualizing the Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
Nearly 95% of the Earth’s surface shows some form of human modification, with 85% bearing evidence of multiple forms of human impact.
Visualizing the Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
View the high resolution version of this map by clicking here.
There is little doubt that human activity has impacted the Earth, but to what extent?
As it turns out, nearly 95% of the Earth’s surface shows some form of human modification, with 85% bearing evidence of multiple forms of human impact.
This map by data scientist Hannah Ker outlines the extent of humanity’s modification on terrestrial land ecosystems.
Measuring the Human Impact
This map relies on the Global Human Modification of Terrestrial Systems data set, which tracks the physical extent of 13 anthropogenic stressors across five categories.
- Human settlement: population density, built‐up areas
- Agriculture: cropland, livestock
- Transportation: major roads, minor roads, two tracks, railroads
- Mining and energy production: mining, oil wells, wind turbines
- Electrical infrastructure: powerlines, nighttime lights
Researchers compiled all these stress factors and scaled their impact from 0 to 1. Then, in order to map the impacts spatially, the surface of land was organized into cells of 1 kilometer in length creating “edges” of varying impact.
These impacts are further organized by biomes—distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate.
Digging into the Data
Only 5% of the world’s lands are unaffected by humans, which amounts to nearly 7 million km² of the Earth’s land, and 44% (59 million km²) is categorized as low modification.
The remainder of land has a moderate to high degree of modification: with 34% categorized as moderate (46 million km²), 13% categorized as high (17 million km²), and 4% categorized as very high modification (5.5 million km²). This latter category is the most visible on the map, with portions of China, India, and Italy serving as focal points.
Below is a look at how Earth’s various biomes fare under this ranking system:
Out of the 14 biomes studied, the least modified biomes are tundra, boreal forests, deserts, temperate coniferous forests, and montane grasslands. Tropical dry broadleaf forests, temperate broadleaf forests, Mediterranean forests, mangroves, and temperate grasslands are the most modified biomes.
Dense human settlements, agricultural land uses, networks of infrastructure, and industrial activities dominate the more highly modified biomes. These lands are commonly subject to five or more human stressors simultaneously, threatening naturally-occurring ecosystem services.
What are Ecosystem Services?
An ecosystem service is any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provide to people, and they can be sorted into four categories:
- Provisioning Services: This is the primary benefit of nature. Humans derive their food, water, and resources from nature.
- Regulating: Plants clean air and filter water, tree roots help to keep soil in place to prevent erosion, bees pollinate flowers, and bacterial colonies help to decompose waste.
- Cultural Services: Humans have long interacted with the “wild” and it in turn has influenced our social, intellectual, and cultural development. However, the built environment of a city or town separates man from nature and ancient patterns of life. Ecosystems have long served as inspiration for music, art, architecture, and recreation.
- Supporting Services: Ecosystems contain the fundamental natural processes that make life possible such as photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, soil creation, and the water cycle. These natural processes bring the Earth to life. Without these supporting services, provisional, regulating, and cultural services wouldn’t exist.
A Delicate Balance
With each encroachment upon habitat, the potential increases for humans to inadvertently upset the careful balance of ecosystem services that have nourished the processes of life on Earth.
As we become more aware of the human impact on the plant, we can make smarter decisions about how our society and economies function—ultimately ensuring that the same ecosystem services are there for future generations.
50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020)
Visualizing 50 years of gaming history, from the first wave of arcades and home consoles to a tsunami of mobile gaming.
50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020)
View a more detailed version of the above by clicking here
Every year it feels like the gaming industry sees the same stories—record sales, unfathomable market reach, and questions of how much higher the market can go.
We’re already far past the point of gaming being the biggest earning media sector, with an estimated $165 billion revenue generated in 2020.
But as our graphic above helps illustrate, it’s important to break down shifting growth within the market. Research from Pelham Smithers shows that while the tidal wave of gaming has only continued to swell, the driving factors have shifted over the course of gaming history.
1970–1983: The Pre-Crash Era
At first, there was Atari.
Early prototypes of video games were developed in labs in the 1960s, but it was Atari’s release of Pong in 1972 that helped to kickstart the industry.
The arcade table-tennis game was a sensation, drawing in consumers eager to play and companies that started to produce their own knock-off versions. Likewise, it was Atari that sold a home console version of Pong in 1975, and eventually its own Atari 2600 home console in 1977, which would become the first console to sell more than a million units.
In short order, the arcade market began to plateau. After dwindling due to a glut of Pong clones, the release of Space Invaders in 1978 reinvigorated the market.
Arcade machines started to be installed everywhere, and new franchises like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong drove further growth. By 1982, arcades were already generating more money than both the pop music industry and the box office.
1985–2000: The Tech Advancement Race
Unfortunately, the gaming industry grew too quickly to maintain.
Eager to capitalize on a growing home console market, Atari licensed extremely high budget ports of Pac-Man and a game adaptation of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. They were rushed to market, released in poor quality, and cost the company millions in returns and more in brand damage.
As other companies also looked to capitalize on the market, many other poor attempts at games and consoles caused a downturn across the industry. At the same time, personal computers were becoming the new flavor of gaming, especially with the release of the Commodore 64 in 1982.
It was a sign of what was to define this era of gaming history: a technological race. In the coming years, Nintendo would release the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) home console in 1985 (released in Japan as the Famicom), prioritizing high quality games and consistent marketing to recapture the wary market.
On the backs of games like Duck Hunt, Excitebike, and the introduction of Mario in Super Mario Bros, the massive success of the NES revived the console market.
Estimated Total Console Sales by Manufacturer (1970-2020)
|Manufacturer||Home Console sales||Handheld Console Sales||Total Sales|
|Nintendo||318 M||430 M||754 M|
|Sony||445 M||90 M||535 M|
|Microsoft||149 M||-||149 M|
|Sega||64-67 M||14 M||81 M|
|Atari||31 M||1 M||32 M|
|Hudson Soft/NEC||10 M||-||10 M|
|Bandai||-||3.5 M||3.5 M|
Nintendo looked to continue its dominance in the field, with the release of the Game Boy handheld and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. At the same time, other competitors stepped in to beat them at their own game.
In 1988, arcade company Sega entered the fray with the Sega Mega Drive console (released as the Genesis in North America) and then later the Game Gear handheld, putting its marketing emphasis on processing power.
Electronics maker Sony released the PlayStation in 1994, which used CD-ROMs instead of cartridges to enhance storage capacity for individual games. It became the first console in history to sell more than 100 million units, and the focus on software formats would carry on with the PlayStation 2 (DVDs) and PlayStation 3 (Blu-rays).
Even Microsoft recognized the importance of gaming on PCs and developed the DirectX API to assist in game programming. That “X” branding would make its way to the company’s entry into the console market, the Xbox.
2001–Present: The Online Boom
It was the rise of the internet and mobile, however, that grew the gaming industry from tens of billions to hundreds of billions in revenue.
A primer was the viability of subscription and freemium services. In 2001, Microsoft launched the Xbox Live online gaming platform for a monthly subscription fee, giving players access to multiplayer matchmaking and voice chat services, quickly becoming a must-have for consumers.
Meanwhile on PCs, Blizzard was tapping into the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) subscription market with the 2004 release of World of Warcraft, which saw a peak of more than 14 million monthly paying subscribers.
All the while, companies saw a future in mobile gaming that they were struggling to tap into. Nintendo continued to hold onto the handheld market with updated Game Boy consoles, and Nokia and BlackBerry tried their hands at integrating game apps into their phones.
But it was Apple’s iPhone that solidified the transition of gaming to a mobile platform. The company’s release of the App Store for its smartphones (followed closely by Google’s own store for Android devices) paved the way for app developers to create free, paid, and pay-per-feature games catered to a mass market.
Now, everyone has their eyes on that growing $85 billion mobile slice of the gaming market, and game companies are starting to heavily consolidate.
Major Gaming Acquisitions Since 2014
|Date||Acquirer||Target and Sector||Deal Value (US$)|
|Apr. 2014||Oculus - VR||$3 Billion|
|Aug. 2014||Amazon||Twitch - Streaming||$970 Million|
|Nov. 2014||Microsoft||Mojang - Games||$2.5 Billion|
|Feb. 2016||Activision Blizzard||King - Games||$5.9 Billion|
|Jun. 2016||Tencent||Supercell - Games||$8.6 Billion|
|Feb. 2020||Embracer Group||Saber Interactive - Games||$525 Million|
|Sep. 2020||Microsoft||ZeniMax Media - Games||$7.5 Billion|
|Nov. 2020||Take-Two Interactive||Codemasters - Games||$994 Million|
Console makers like Microsoft and Sony are launching cloud-based subscription services even while they continue to develop new consoles. Meanwhile, Amazon and Google are launching their own services that work on multiple devices, mobile included.
After seeing the success that games like Pokémon Go had on smartphones—reaching more than $1 billion in yearly revenue—and Grand Theft Auto V’s record breaking haul of $1 billion in just three days, companies are targeting as much of the market as they can.
And with the proliferation of smartphones, social media games, and streaming services, they’re on the right track. There are more than 2.7 billion gamers worldwide in 2020, and how they choose to spend their money will continue to shape gaming history as we know it.
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