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Visualizing the History of Pandemics

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History of Pandemics 16 March 2021 Update

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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:

NameTime periodType / Pre-human hostDeath toll
Antonine Plague165-180Believed to be either smallpox or measles5M
Japanese smallpox epidemic735-737Variola major virus1M
Plague of Justinian541-542Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas30-50M
Black Death1347-1351Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas200M
New World Smallpox Outbreak1520 – onwardsVariola major virus56M
Great Plague of London1665Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas100,000
Italian plague1629-1631Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas1M
Cholera Pandemics 1-61817-1923V. cholerae bacteria1M+
Third Plague1885Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas12M (China and India)
Yellow FeverLate 1800sVirus / Mosquitoes100,000-150,000 (U.S.)
Russian Flu1889-1890Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin)1M
Spanish Flu1918-1919H1N1 virus / Pigs40-50M
Asian Flu1957-1958H2N2 virus1.1M
Hong Kong Flu1968-1970H3N2 virus1M
HIV/AIDS1981-presentVirus / Chimpanzees25-35M
Swine Flu2009-2010H1N1 virus / Pigs200,000
SARS2002-2003Coronavirus / Bats, Civets770
Ebola2014-2016Ebolavirus / Wild animals11,000
MERS2015-PresentCoronavirus / Bats, camels850
COVID-192019-PresentCoronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins)2.7M (Johns Hopkins University estimate as of March 16, 2021)

Note: Many of the death toll numbers listed above are best estimates based on available research. Some, such as the Plague of Justinian and Swine Flu, are subject to debate based on new evidence.

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.

March 15, 2021 Update: Due to popular request, we’ve also visualized how the death tolls of each pandemic stack up as a share of total estimated global populations at the time.

Pandemic Death Toll by Share of Population - Supplemental

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.

Importing Disease

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.

Tracking Infectiousness

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.

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Business

Flowchart: Are You Working for a Toxic Boss?

Most people have had bad bosses, but is your boss toxic? This flowchart helps you discover if you have a toxic boss and what to do about it.

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toxic boss

Flowchart: Are You Working for a Toxic Boss?

The experience of less-than-ideal work situations are common, and the global pandemic has likely heightened challenges for bosses and employees alike. How can mediocre or outright hostile leadership impact your ability to work well?

This flowchart from Resume.io helps you figure out if you’ve got a toxic boss weighing you down. It covers seven archetypes of toxic bosses, and how to respond to each one.

The 7 Types of Toxic Bosses

Barbara Kellerman, a professor of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School identifies seven types of toxic bosses that can exist.

NumberToxic Boss TypeDescription
#1Incompetent BossUnable or unwilling to do their job well
#2Rigid BossConfuses inflexibility with strength
#3Intemperate BossLacks self-knowledge and self-control
#4Callous BossLacks empathy and kindness
#5Corrupt BossSteals or cheats to promote their own interests
#6Insular BossIs cliquish or unreachable
#7Evil BossCauses pain to further their sense of power and dominance

Some bosses simply don’t have the capacity to do their jobs, which makes it more difficult for their employees. Others can be corrupt or callous, creating a highly unmotivating work environment.

But how many people are in this situation?

To give a few quick examples, around 13% of all employees in Europe work under a toxic boss. In the U.S., a whopping 75% say they have left a job primarily because of a bad boss.

What’s so Bad about a Bad Boss?

Bosses can make or break your job experience. Having a toxic boss can cause your quality of work to suffer, which can then trickle down to impact your overall career.

In fact, Harvard Business Review found that a toxic work environment can lead to decreased motivation and employee disengagement. This has significant knock-on effects such as:

  • 37% higher absenteeism
  • 60% more errors in their work
  • 18% lower productivity

According to the same study, this can cause companies to have 16% lower profitability and a 65% lower share price over time.

The physical side effects are not to be underestimated, either. One Swedish study found that a bad boss who increases your job strain can, in tandem, increase your chance of cardiac arrest by 50%. Additionally, a study out of Stanford found that mismanagement in the American workplace and subsequent stress could potentially be responsible for 120,000 deaths per year.

Tips to Deal with a Toxic Boss

Bad bosses can hurt the company, the overall work environment, and can impact your professional growth and personal health.

So, what can you do about it?

NumberToxic Boss TypeSolution
#1Incompetent BossUse initiative
#2Rigid BossUse the power of persuasion
#3Intemperate BossLook for opportunities
#4Callous BossAsk for a 1-on-1 meeting
#5Corrupt BossFind co-workers who share your concerns
#6Insular BossOffer them opportunities to open up
#7Evil BossTake a stand

Different kinds of bosses require different approaches, and some simply aren’t worth putting up with. For instance, taking initiative with an incompetent boss is one relatively easy solution, but having a 1-on-1 with a callous boss takes more effort. An evil boss requires intervention from HR.

If you don’t have a toxic boss, consider yourself lucky. Here are two ways to keep your working relationship strong:

  • Take initiative
  • Keep up open communication
  • Ask for constant feedback so you know where you stand
  • Under-promise and over-deliver

What Can Bosses Do?

Toxic bosses can have disastrous consequences on employees and companies. According to one Gallup survey, at minimum, 75% of the reasons for voluntary turnover can be influenced by managers.

After looking at some of the ways employees can address toxic bosses, how can bosses ensure their work environment is healthy? Harvard Business Review recommends four main things:

  • Encourage social connections
  • Show empathy
  • Go out of your way to help
  • Encourage employees to talk to you—especially about their problems

The future of work may be changing, with remote work becoming more popular and feasible. This can pose problems in creating a strong work culture.

However, if bosses and employees can work together to foster a positive and healthy work environment, everyone, including the bottom line, will benefit.

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Misc

Figures of Speech: 40 Ways to Improve your Writing

Figures of speech are important literary tools that can help improve your writing. Here are 40 different types, and how to use them.

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Figures of Speech: 40 Ways to Improve your Writing

View the high resolution of this infographic by clicking here.

Figurative speech plays an important role in our ability to communicate with one another. It helps create compelling narratives, and evoke emotion in readers.

With this in mind, this periodic table graphic by Visual Communication Guy groups the 40 different figures of speech into two distinct categories—schemes and tropes.

What’s the difference between the two, and how can they help improve your writing?

Types of Schemes

In linguistics, a scheme is language that plays with sentence structure to make a sentence smoother, or even more persuasive, using syntax, word order, or sounds.

Here are four different ways that schemes fiddle with sentence structure.

Balance

This is especially important when trying to make a sentence smoother. A good example of balance is parallelism, which is when you use the same grammatical form in at least two parts of a sentence.

  • Not parallelism: “She likes reading, writing, and to paint on the weekends.”
  • Parallelism: “She likes reading, writing, and painting on the weekends.”

Word Order

Changing the position of words can have an impact on the way a sentence is understood. For instance, anastrophe is the deliberate reordering of words in a sentence to either emphasize a certain point, or distinguish a character as different.

  • An example of anastrophe: “The greatest teacher, failure is.” -Yoda

Omission and/or Inclusion

Omissions and inclusions are useful in order to build suspense or add emotional expression to text. For example, an ellipsis is a form of punctuation that uses three dots (…) to either replace a word in a sentence or indicate a break in speech or an incomplete thought.

  • Example of an ellipsis: “I was thinking of calling her Susie. Well, at least I was until…never mind. Forget I said anything.”

Repetition

Similar to the other types of schemes, repetition allows you to emphasize a certain point you want the reader to pay attention to, but it’s also used to create rhymes and poetry.

A well-known literary device, alliteration uses the same consonant sound at the start of each word in a sentence. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same letter, so long as the sound is the same.

  • A popular example is this nursery rhyme: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
  • Another example: Phillip’s feet. (different letter, but same sound)

Types of Tropes

While schemes play around with the mechanics of a sentence, tropes stray from the literal or typical meanings to evoke emotion, and keep a reader engaged and interested.

Tropes help create an alternative sense of reality, using these five strategies.

Reference

These are literary devices that help paint a deeper picture of a concept, using a reference to something related, but different.

Metaphors and similes are common examples of references, but a lesser-known type of reference is a synecdoche, which is when a small part of something is used in reference to the thing as a whole.

  • An example of a synecdoche: “Check out my new wheels.” (where wheels refer to a car)

Wordplay & Puns

This type of literary device plays with sounds or meaning to add depth to a sentence. For instance, a syllepsis uses one word to create parallels between two separate thoughts, while an onomatopoeia is a figure of speech that uses words (either real or made-up) or even letters to describe a sound.

  • An example of a syllepsis: “When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes.” – E.B. White
  • An example of an onomatopoeia: “Ding-dong” (the sound of a doorbell)

Substitutions

This is when someone replaces a word or thought with something else. For instance, anthimeria is the use of a word in a grammatical form it’s not generally used in, while periphrasis is when someone intentionally elaborates on a point, instead of expressing it succinctly.

  • An anthimeria: “I could use a good sleep.” (Sleep is normally a verb, but here it’s used as a noun)
  • Example of a periphrasis: Instead of saying, “It’s cold outside.” you say, “The temperature of the atmosphere when I exited my home this morning was quite chilly and exceptionally uncomfortable.”

Overstatement and/or Understatement

These are intentionally exaggerated, or downplayed situations that aren’t meant to be taken literally. A hyperbole is an example of an overstatement, while litotes are the opposite—deliberate understatements.

  • An example of a hyperbole: I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.
  • While a litotes looks like this: It’s not rocket science.

Inversions

This type of literary technique uses contradictory ideas and indirect questions for dramatic effect, or to emphasize a point. For instance, an oxymoron is when two contradictory words are used back-to-back.

  • An example of an oxymoron: Act natural

Using Figures of Speech to Craft Content

First, let’s just address it…Yes, I did use alliteration in the above header, and yes, now I’m using an ellipsis in this sentence.

Because let’s face it—in the age of information overload, writing articles that are interesting and compelling to readers is a top priority for online content creators. And using figurative language is a good way to keep readers attention.

So, if you’re a content creator yourself (or simply looking to beef up your knowledge on linguistics), hopefully this graphic has helped you on that journey.

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