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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)848K (Johns Hopkins University estimate as of 10:28am PT, Aug 31, 2020)

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

3D Map: The U.S. Cities With the Highest Economic Output

The total U.S. GDP stands at a whopping $21 trillion, but which metro areas contribute to the most in terms of economic output?

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US Cities by Economic Output

3D Map: The U.S. Cities With the Highest Economic Output

At over $21 trillion, the U.S. holds the title of the world’s largest economy—accounting for almost a quarter of the global GDP total. However, the fact is that a few select cities are responsible for a large share of the country’s total economic output.

This unique 3D map from HowMuch puts into perspective the city corridors which contribute the most to the American economy at large.

Top 10 Metros by Economic Output

The visualization pulls the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA, 2018), and ranks the top 10 metro area economies in the country.

One thing is immediately clear—the New York metro area dwarfs all other metro area by a large margin. This cluster, which includes Newark and Jersey City, is bigger than the metro areas surrounding Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

RankMetro AreaState codesGDP (2018)
#1New York-Newark-Jersey CityNY-NJ-PA $1.77T
#2Los Angeles-Long Beach-AnaheimCA$1.05T
#3Chicago-Naperville-ElginIL-IN-WI$0.69T
#4San Francisco-Oakland-BerkeleyCA$0.55T
#5Washington-Arlington-AlexandriaDC-VA-MD-WV$0.54T
#6Dallas-Fort Worth-ArlingtonTX$0.51T
#7Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar LandTX$0.48T
#8Boston-Cambridge-NewtonMA-NH$0.46T
#9Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD$0.44T
#10Atlanta-Sandy Springs-AlpharettaGA$0.40T
Total GDP$6.90T

Coming in fourth place is San Francisco on the West Coast, with $549 billion in total economic output each year. Meanwhile in the South, the Dallas metroplex brings in $478 billion, placing it sixth in the ranks.

It’s worth noting that using individual metro areas is one way to view things, but geographers also think of urban life in broader terms as well. Given the proximity of cities in the Northeast, places like Boston, NYC, and Washington, D.C. are sometimes grouped into a single megaregion. When viewed this way, the corridor is actually the world’s largest in economic terms.

U.S. States: Sum of Its Parts

Zooming out beyond just these massive cities demonstrates the combined might of the U.S. in another unique way. Tallying all the urban and rural areas, every state economy can be compared to the size of entire countries.

US States and Country Comparison by GDP 2018

According to the American Enterprise Institute, the state of California brings in a GDP that rivals the United Kingdom in its entirety.

By this same measure, Texas competes with Canada in terms of pure economic output, despite a total land area that’s 15 times less that of the Great White North.

With COVID-19 continuing to impact parts of the global economy disproportionately, how will these kinds of economic comparisons hold up in the future?

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29 Psychological Tricks To Make You Buy More

This graphic looks at 29 different psychological tricks that marketers use to try and influence consumer behavior.

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29 Psychological Tricks To Make You Buy More

Ever suffered from buyer’s remorse? You’re not alone.

According to a recent survey, only 5% of people have never felt guilty about buying something. That means the majority of us, at some point in our lives, have regretted a purchase.

But consumers aren’t necessarily only to blame for impulse buys. After all, we’re constantly bombarded with advertisements and marketing tactics specifically tailored to try and get us to spend more money.

Today’s graphic by TitleMax explains 29 different psychological tactics that marketers try to get consumers to buy more.

Tricks are for Marketers

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it provides some key examples of the ways that marketers are attempting to influence your subconscious mind.

We noticed some high-level trends among the 29 tactics, which we compiled into four overarching sections:

  • Visual Pricing Tricks
    These tricks aim to intentionally minimize the appearance of the price, so it’s more palatable to consumers. For instance, a store will price something at $9.99 instead of $10.00, or label a product as “buy-one-get-one” rather than 50% off.
  • Intentional Language Tricks
    It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Making products seem costly to manufacture, offering exclusivity, and using words associated with small amounts fall under this category. These tricks use semantics to position a product in an appealing way.
  • Brick-and-Mortar Tricks
    A store’s layout is less arbitrary than you may realize. Having a bright and colorful entrance, playing calm and slow music, and putting the essential items at the back of the store are a few tactics that fall into this section. These tricks use displays and product placement to influence consumer behavior.
  • Urgency Tricks
    A false sense of urgency and phase-out discounts are included in this category. If a consumer believes they might miss out on a deal, they’re more likely to buy.

The Theories in Practice

While most retailers are guilty of using at least a few of these tactics, several big companies are notorious for their use of psychological tricks to boost sales.

For instance, Ikea is well known for its confusing, maze-like layout. This is no accident, as an Ikea store’s architecture is designed specifically to maximize product exposure—it’s mastered what’s called the Gruen effect, a term named after architect Victor Gruen, whose elaborate displays were proven to convert browsers into buyers.

Another example is Walmart’s rollback pricing, which uses visual contrast to make the sale price more appealing. It’s clearly served the company well—in 2019, Walmart made $524 billion in revenue, making it the world’s largest retailer.

Costco uses a few tactics on the list, but one it’s notorious for is putting fresh produce in the back of the store. That means customers need to pass through the electronics, clothing, and household goods sections before they can get to the necessities.

While the above tactics are in a gray area, other tricks are flat out dishonest. Makeup brand Sunday Riley was caught writing fake Sephora reviews to boost sales. Employees were encouraged to write outstanding reviews for the company, and the CEO even provided instructions on how to avoid getting caught.

The Influencer Era

As consumers become aware of certain marketing tactics, retailers are forced to switch up their game in order to remain effective.

A relatively recent phenomenon is influencer marketing, which is when brands partner with vloggers or influencers to endorse a product. And these partnerships tend to work—a recent survey revealed that 40% of people have purchased something based on an influencer’s recommendation.

But how long will influencer marketing—or any of these tactics—stay effective? Some of the more subtle pricing tactics might stay relevant for longer, but it’s unlikely that all of these tricks will stand the test of time.

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