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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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Misc

Ranked: The 50 Most Popular Fast Food Chains in America

What’s America been craving? Here’s a look at the top 50 most popular fast food chains, ranked by U.S. sales in 2019.

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The 50 Most Popular Fast Food Chains in America

Millions of Americans eat at fast food restaurants every day—and they now have more options at their disposal than ever before.

From burgers to pad thai, there’s a quick service restaurant that’ll satisfy almost any appetite. With all this choice, which fast food chains are the most popular among consumers?

Using data from QSR Magazine, today’s infographic ranks the top 50 largest fast food chains in the U.S. by sales in 2019, providing insight into the types of foods Americans have been craving.

Fast Food Chains Ranked, by Revenue

In 2019, the 50 largest fast food chains in the U.S. generated over $200 billion in revenue. How do these quick service giants stack up against each other?

RankCompanyCategoryU.S. Sales, Billions (2019)
1McDonald'sBurger$40.41
2StarbucksSnack$21.55
3Chick-fil-AChicken$11.00
4Taco BellGlobal$11.00
5Burger KingBurger$10.30
6SubwaySandwich$10.00
7Wendy'sBurger$9.87
8Dunkin'Snack$9.22
9Domino'sPizza$7.10
10Panera BreadSandwich$5.93
11ChipotleGlobal$5.52
12Pizza HutPizza$5.38
13KFCChicken$4.82
14Sonic Drive-InBurger$4.69
15Arby'sSandwich$3.89
16Little CaesarsPizza$3.85
17Panda ExpressGlobal$3.80
18Dairy QueenSnack$3.76
19Popeyes Louisiana KitchenChicken$3.75
20Jack in the BoxBurger$3.51
21Papa John'sPizza$2.66
22WhataburgerBurger$2.56
23Jimmy John'sSandwich$2.11
24Hardee'sBurger$2.07
25Zaxby'sChicken$1.84
26Culver'sBurger$1.73
27Five GuysBurger$1.66
28Raising Cane'sChicken$1.47
29WingstopChicken$1.40
30Carl's Jr.Burger$1.39
31Jersey Mike'sSandwich$1.34
32Bojangles'Chicken$1.29
33In-N-Out BurgerBurger$1.00
34Steak 'n ShakeBurger$0.93
35El Pollo LocoChicken$0.89
36QDOBAGlobal$0.85
37Checkers/Rally'sBurger$0.86
38Firehouse SubsSandwich$0.86
39Del TacoGlobal$0.85
40Tim HortonsSandwich$0.84
41Moe'sGlobal$0.79
42Papa Murphy'sPizza$0.75
43McAlister's DeliSandwich$0.72
44Jason's DeliSandwich$0.71
45Church's ChickenChicken$0.70
46Shake ShackBurger$0.63
47Marco's PizzaPizza$0.63
48Baskin-RobbinsSnack$0.63
49Tropical Smoothie CaféSnack$0.58
50Auntie Anne'sSnack$0.56

Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s comes in at number one with over $40 billion in sales. Despite a scandal involving its former CEO, McDonald’s still managed to significantly outsell its peers—the company made almost double that of the second-largest fast food chain, Starbucks.

But don’t worry, Starbucks did just fine for itself. With $21 billion in sales, the Seattle-based coffee chain saw a 5% increase compared to its numbers in 2018.

Top Selling Fast Food Categories

Based on the ranking, it’s clear that Americans still love their McDonald’s. But are burgers, in general, the most popular fast food item?

In short—yes. Burgers are king. Here’s a look at how burgers, pizza, chicken, and other food categories measure up:

Burger joints remain the most popular fast food option among consumers—14 of the 50 chains on the list are classified as burger restaurants, with $80 billion in collective sales.

Snacks come in at second place, with a total of $36 billion in revenue. Boasting a broad variety of foods from iced coffee to donuts and ice cream, six of the restaurants on the list are included in this category. Starbucks is the most popular, followed by Dunkin’ and Dairy Queen respectively.

While the chicken and sandwich categories both have nine restaurants included in the ranking, chicken restaurants outsold sandwiches by almost $1 billion. This is largely due to Chick-fil-A, which makes up more than a third of all chicken restaurant sales included in the ranking.

COVID Closures

It’s important to note that these numbers reflect the fast food industry before the devastating impacts of COVID-19. The global pandemic has forced many fast food restaurants to adapt, and it’s also triggered a number of restaurant shutdowns.

For instance, McDonald’s is set to permanently close 200 of its 14,000 U.S. locations, and Dunkin’ will be closing 450 restaurants by the end of 2020. Starbucks has also announced it’s planning to permanently shut down up to 400 locations by mid-2021.

With online sales more important than ever, the chains with a strong digital presence may be in a better position to weather the storm. Chains with physical distancing options, such as drive-throughs, could also recover quicker.

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Energy

Visualizing the Range of EVs on Major Highway Routes

We visualize how far popular EV models will take you on real-world routes between major cities, and which are the most cost effective.

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The Range of EVs on Major Highway Routes

Between growing concerns around climate change, new commuting behaviors due to COVID-19, and imminent policy changes, the global transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is well under way.

By the year 2040, sales of electric vehicles are projected to account for 58% of new car sales, up from just 2.7% currently.

But switching from a gasoline car to an electric one is not seamless. With charging and range capacities to consider, and the supporting infrastructure still being slowly rolled out in many parts of the world, understanding the realities of EV transportation is vital.

Above, we highlight 2020 all-electric vehicle range on well-recognized routes, from California’s I-5 in the U.S. to the A2 autobahn in Germany. The data on estimated ranges and costs are drawn from the U.S. EPA as well as directly from manufacturer websites.

The EV Breakdown: Tesla is King of Range

For many consumers, the most important aspect of an electric vehicle is how far they can travel on a single charge.

Whether it’s for long commutes or out-of-city trips, vehicles must meet a minimum threshold to be considered practical for many households. As the table below shows, Tesla’s well-known EVs are far-and-away the best option for long range drivers.

VehicleRange (miles)Range (km)MSRPCost per mile
Tesla Model S Long Range Plus402647$74,990$186.54
Tesla Model X Long Range Plus351565$79,990$227.89
Tesla Model S Performance348560$94,990$272.96
Tesla Model 3 Long Range322518$46,990$145.93
Tesla Model Y Long Range316509$49,990$158.20
Tesla Model X Performance305491$99,990$327.84
Tesla Model 3 LR Performance299481$54,990$183.91
Tesla Model Y Performance291468$59,990$206.15
Polestar 2275443$59,900$217.82
Chevrolet Bolt EV259417$36,620$141.39
Hyundai Kona Electric258415$37,190$144.15
Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus250402$37,990$151.96
Kia Niro EV239385$39,090$163.56
Jaguar I-PACE234377$69,850$298.50
Nissan LEAF e+ S226364$38,200$169.03
Audi e-tron Sportback218351$69,100$316.97
Nissan LEAF e+ SV/SL215346$39,750$184.88
Audi e-tron204328$65,900$323.04
Porsche Taycan 4S Perf Battery Plus203327$112,990$556.60
Porsche Taycan Turbo201323$153,510$763.73
Porsche Taycan Turbo S192309$187,610$977.14
Hyundai IONIQ Electric170274$33,045$194.38
BMW i3153246$44,450$290.52
Nissan LEAF149240$31,600$212.08
MINI Cooper SE110177$29,900$271.82
Fiat 500e84135$33,460$398.33

In an industry where innovation and efficiency are vital, Tesla’s first-mover advantage is evident. From the more affordable Model 3 to the more luxurious Model S, the top eight EVs with the longest ranges are all Tesla vehicles.

At 402 miles (647 km), the range of the number one vehicle (the Tesla Model S Long Range Plus) got 127 miles more per charge than the top non-Tesla vehicle, the Polestar 2—an EV made by Volvo’s standalone performance brand.

Closer Competition in Cost

Though Tesla leads on overall range and battery capacity, accounting for the price of each vehicle shows that cost-efficiency is far more competitive among brands.

By dividing the retail price by the maximum range of each vehicle, we can paint a clearer picture of efficiency. Leading the pack is the Chevrolet Bolt, which had a cost of $141.39/mile of range in 2020 while still placing in the top 10 for range with 259 miles (417 km).

Just behind in second place was the Hyundai Kona electric at $144.15/mile of range, followed by the Tesla Model 3—the most efficient of the automaker’s current lineup. Rounding out the top 10 are the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S, but the difference from number one to number ten was minimal, at just over $45/mile.

Top 10 All-Electric Vehicles by Cost Efficiency
VehicleCost per mile
Chevrolet Bolt EV$141.39
Hyundai Kona Electric$144.15
Tesla Model 3 Long Range$145.93
Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus$151.96
Tesla Model Y Long Range$158.20
Kia Niro EV$163.56
Nissan LEAF e+ S$169.03
Tesla Model 3 LR Performance$183.91
Nissan LEAF e+ SV/SL$184.88
Tesla Model S Long Range Plus$186.54

Higher Ranges and Lower Costs on the Horizon

The most important thing to consider, however, is that the EV industry is entering a critical stage.

On one hand, the push for electrification and innovation in EVs has driven battery capacity higher and costs significantly lower. As batteries account for the bulk of weight, cost, and performance in EVs, those dividends will pay out in longer ranges and greater efficiencies with newer models.

Equally important is the strengthening global push for electric vehicle adoption. In countries like Norway, EVs are already among the best selling cars on the market, while adoption rates in China and the U.S. are steadily climbing. This is also being impacted by policy decisions, such as California’s recent announcement that it would be banning the sale of gasoline cars by 2035.

Meanwhile, the only thing outpacing the growing network of Tesla superchargers is the company’s rising stock price. Not content to sit on the sidelines, competing automakers are rapidly trying to catch up. Nissan’s LEAF is just behind the Tesla Model 3 as the world’s second-best-selling EV, and Audi recently rolled out a supercharger network that can charge its cars from 0% to 80% at a faster rate than Tesla.

As the tidal wave of electric vehicle demand and adoption continues to pick up steam, consumers can expect increasing innovation to drive up ranges, decrease costs, and open up options.

Correction: A previous version of this graphic showed a European route that was the incorrect distance.

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