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Visualizing the History of Pandemics

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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)2.2M (Johns Hopkins University estimate as of Feb 1, 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.

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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Markets

World Beer Index 2021: What’s the Price of a Beer in Your Country?

The global desire for beer prevails even in a pandemic. These maps compare the average beer price in 58 countries—just how much do we drink?

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What’s the Price of A Beer in Your Country?

View the high resolution of this infographic by clicking here.

Although fewer people have been able to grab a beer at the pub during this pandemic, the global desire for beer prevails. For example, sales of the Corona beer actually shot up in the past year, despite—or perhaps because of—associations with the coronavirus.

This World Beer Index from Expensivity compares the average price of a bottle of beer in 58 countries in a detailed map. Additionally, we show which countries spend the most on beer per capita, and just how much beer people really drink.

Pricey Pints: The Average Price of a Beer

Researchers calculated the average price of a typical bottle of beer (330ml, just shy of a pint) from well known brands via online stores and statistics database Numbeo. In addition, local beer prices were pulled from hotel and bar menus, and average values converted to USD.

In Qatar, you’d have to shell out $11.26 for a single beer, which would surely make for a really expensive night out on the town. In part, this is because in 2019, the Muslim-majority country introduced a 100% excise tax on top the previous sales price of all alcohol imports.

These steep prices are aimed at tourists—and with Qatar hosting the 2022 men’s soccer World Cup, there’ll be thousands of visitors in the country looking for a cold one at any price.

RankCountryCapital CityAverage Price of a Beer
1South AfricaPretoria, Bloemfontein, Cape Town$1.68
2UkraineKyiv$1.76
3ArgentinaBuenos Aires$1.79
4Bosnia And HerzegovinaSarajevo$1.96
5GhanaAccra$2.05
6TunisiaTunis$2.09
7GeorgiaTbilisi$2.30
8North MacedoniaSkopje$2.34
9ChileSantiago$2.40
10Czech Republic (Czechia)Prague$2.49
11RwandaKigali$2.52
12BrazilBrasilia$2.52
13HaitiPort Au Prince$2.66
14ColombiaBogota$2.72
15SpainMadrid$2.74
16PanamaPanama City$2.74
17Sri LankaColombo$2.77
18HungaryBudapest$2.84
19ArmeniaYerevan$2.96
20IndonesiaJakarta$3.17
21AzerbaijanBaku$3.18
22GuyanaGeorgetown$3.39
23BoliviaSanta Cruz$3.42
24KazakhstanNur-Sultan$3.44
25BelgiumBrussels$3.47
26TurkeyIstanbul$3.61
27MaltaValletta$3.65
28BelarusMinsk$3.72
29EgyptCairo$3.80
30IndiaNew Delhi$3.90
31CanadaOttawa$3.96
32AustriaVienna$3.99
33WalesCardiff$4.06
34NepalKathmandu$4.13
35ScotlandEdinburgh$4.18
36GreeceAthens$4.25
37PhilippinesManila$4.25
38PolandWarsaw$4.37
39MexicoMexcio City$4.46
40LithuaniaVilnius$4.55
41South KoreaSeoul$4.56
42NetherlandsAmsterdam$4.60
43GermanyBerlin$4.64
44MalaysiaKuala Lumpur$4.74
45United StatesWashington D.C.$4.75
46ThailandBangkok$4.82
47PortugalLisbon$5.06
48RussiaMoscow$5.08
49SingaporeSingapore$5.17
50DenmarkCopenhagen$5.20
51ItalyRome$5.83
52EnglandLondon$5.97
53JapanTokyo$6.16
54SwitzerlandBern$6.23
55FranceParis$6.39
56ChinaBeijing$7.71
57JordanAmman$9.40
58QatarDoha$11.26

At just $1.68 per bottle, South Africa has the lowest average price of a beer thanks at least partially to cultural norms of buying in bulk.

Cashing In: The Per Capita Spend on Beer

The price of a single beer is one thing, but which countries spend the most on beer itself? Germany unsurprisingly tops the list here with nearly $2,000 of expenditures per capita, bolstered by its strong beer culture and annual Oktoberfest celebration.

Germany also prides itself on the purity of its beer—the vast majority of brewers follow the Reinheitsgebot, centuries-old purity laws that broadly state that beer may contain only three ingredients: water, barley, and hops.

World Beer Index 2021 - Per Capita Spend on Beer 820px
View the high resolution of this infographic by clicking here.

Following closely behind is Poland, which spends $1,738 per capita. Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks eighth in the world for the highest spending on beer per capita at $1,554—beer is also the country’s most popular alcoholic beverage.

Getting Boozy: How Much Beer Do People Drink?

Using data from the World Health Organization, the visualization below also digs into how much beer is consumed around the world per capita.

The Czech Republic emerges on top in this regard, with 468 beers on average in a year—that works out to 1.3 beers per day. Spain and Germany are next with 417 and 411 beers, respectively.

World Beer Index 2021 - Per Capita Beer Consumption 820px
View the high resolution of this infographic by clicking here.

On the flip side, people in Haiti only drink about four beers yearly. This may be because they prefer something a little stronger—97% of alcohol consumption in the nation comes from spirits such as rum.

Beer has been around for over 7,000 years. No matter the price of a beer in your country, it’s worth raising a glass to the timelessness of this humble beverage.

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Economy

How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over Two Centuries

This unique animated visualization uses health and wealth measurements to chart the evolution of countries over time.

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two centuries of health and wealth

How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over 221 Years

At the dawn of the 19th century, global life expectancy was only 28.5 years.

Outbreaks, war, and famine would still kill millions of people at regular intervals. These issues are still stubbornly present in 21st century society, but broadly speaking, the situation around the world has vastly improved. Today, most of humanity lives in countries where the life expectancy is above the typical retirement age of 65.

At the same time, while inequality remains a hot button topic within countries, income disparity between countries is slowing beginning to narrow.

This animated visualization, created by James Eagle, tracks the evolution of health and wealth factors in countries around the world. For further exploration, Gapminder also has a fantastic interactive chart that showcases the same dataset.

The Journey to the Upper-Right Quadrant

In general terms, history has seen health practices improve and countries become increasingly wealthy–trends that are reflected in this visualization. In fact, most countries drift towards the upper-right quadrant over the 221 years covered in the dataset.

However, that path to the top-right, which indicates high levels of both life expectancy and GDP per capita, is rarely a linear journey. Here are some of the noteworthy events and milestones to watch out for while viewing the animation.

1880s: Breaking the 50-Year Barrier
In the late 19th century, Nordic countries such as Sweden and Norway already found themselves past the 50-year life expectancy mark. This was a significant milestone considering the global life expectancy was a full 20 years shorter at the time. It wasn’t until the year 1960 that the global life expectancy would catch up.

1918: The Spanish Flu and WWI
At times, a confluence of factors can impact health and wealth in countries and regions. In this case, World War I coincided with one of the deadliest pandemics in history, leading to global implications. In the animation, this is abundantly clear as the entire cluster of circles takes a nose dive for a short period of time.

1933, 1960: Communist Famines
At various points in history, human decisions can have catastrophic consequences. This was the case in the Soviet Union (1933) and the People’s Republic of China (1960), where life expectancy plummeted during famines that killed millions of people. These extreme events are easy to spot in the animation due to the large populations of the countries in question.

1960s: Oil Economies Kick into High Gear
During this time, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all experience massive booms in wealth, and in the following decade, smaller countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait rocket to the right edge of the visualization.

In following decades, both Iran and Iraq can be seen experiencing wild fluctuations in both health and wealth as regime changes and conflict begin to destabilize the region.

1990s: AIDS in Africa
In the animation, a number of countries plummet in unison at the end of the 20th century. These are sub-Saharan African countries that were hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. At its peak in the early ’00s, the disease accounted for more than half of deaths in some countries.

1995: Breaking the 65-Year Barrier
Global life expectancy reaches retirement age. At this point in time, there is a clear divide in both health and wealth between African and South Asian countries and the rest of the world. Thankfully, that gap is would continue to narrow in coming years.

1990-2000s: China’s Economic Rise
With a population well over a billion people, it’s impossible to ignore China in any global overview. Starting from the early ’90s, China begins its march from the left to right side of the chart, highlighting the unprecedented economic growth it experienced during that time.

What the Future Holds

If current trends continue, global life expectancy is expected to surpass the 80-year mark by 2100. And, sub-Saharan Africa, which has the lowest life expectancy today, is expected to mostly close the gap, reaching 75 years of age.

Wealth is also expected to increase nearly across the board, with the biggest gains coming from places like Vietnam, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Some experts are projecting the world economy as a whole to double in size by 2050.

There are always bumps along the way, but it appears that the journey to the upper-right quadrant is still very much underway.

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