This is a timeline of plague, describing major events such as epidemics and key medical developments.
Time period Key developments
541–750 (circa) The first plague pandemic spreads from Egypt to the Mediterranean (starting with the Plague of Justinian) and Northwestern Europe.
1346–1840 The second plague pandemic spreads from Central Asia to the Mediterranean and Europe. The Black Death of 1346-53 is considered to be unparalleled in human history. From 1347 to 1665, the Black Death is responsible for about 25 million deaths in Europe.
1866–1960s The third plague pandemic, which originated in China, results in about 2.2 million deaths. Haffkine develops the first vaccine against bubonic plague. Antibiotic drugs are developed in the 1940s which dramatically reduce the death rate from plague.
1950–2000 Plague cases are massively reduced during the second half of the 20th century. However, outbreaks would still occur, especially in developing countries. Between 1954 and 1997, human plague is reported in 38 countries, making the disease a remerging threat to human health. Also, between 1987 and 2001, 36,876 confirmed cases of plague with 2,847 deaths are reported to the World Health Organization.
Recent years Today, fewer than 200 people die of the plague worldwide each year, mainly due to lack of treatment. Plague is considered to be endemic in 26 countries around the world, with most cases found in remote areas of Africa. The three most endemic countries are Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Peru.
Cases of human plague for the period 1994–2003 in countries that reported at least 100 confirmed or suspected cases. Case-fatality rates in % are represented on the left vertical.
Plague cases reported in Africa to the World Health Organization for the period 1954-1986. Cumulative.
Plague cases reported in Americas to the World Health Organization for the period 1954-1986. Cumulative.
Plague cases reported in Asia to the World Health Organizations for the period 1954-1986. Cumulative.
Plague cases reported to the World Health Organization by continent. Cumulative.
Year/Period Event type Event Present-day geographic location
Plague infection is first recorded in China. China
430 BC Epidemic Plague of Athens devastates the city's population. The outbreak also affects much of the eastern Mediterranean region. Greece, Mediterranean basin
165–180 AD Epidemic Antonine Plague, also known as the plague of Galen, the Greek physician living in the Roman Empire who described it. It is suspected to have been smallpox or measles. The total deaths have been estimated at five million and the disease killed as much as one-third of the population in some areas and devastated the Roman army. Iraq, Italy, France, Germany
250-270 AD Epidemic Plague of Cyprian breaks out in Rome. It is estimated to kill about 5000 people a day. Italy
540 AD Epidemic Plague epidemic originates in Ethiopia spreads to Pelusium in Egypt. Ethiopia, Egypt
541–542 AD Epidemic The Plague of Justinian breaks out and develops as an extended epidemic in the Mediterranean basin. Frequent outbreaks over the next two hundred years would eventually kill an estimated 25 million people. The Justinian Plague is considered the first recorded pandemic. Mediterranean Basin
542 AD Epidemic The plague arrives in Constantinople (now Istanbul). By spring of 542, about 5,000 deaths per day in the city are calculated, although some estimates vary to 10,000 per day. The epidemic would go on to kill over a third of the city’s population. Turkey
543 AD Epidemic After passing from Italy to Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, plague reaches what is now modern Iran. Iran
627 AD Epidemic A large epidemic of plague breaks out in Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sasanian Empire, killing more than 100,000 people. Iran
1334 Epidemic The second plague pandemic breaks out in China. Widely known as the "Black Death" or the Great Plague, it is regarded as one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia. Eurasia
Plague occurs in southern Russia, around the lower Volga River basin. Russia
Bubonic plague is reported in central Asia.
1346 Epidemic Bubonic plague breaks out in China and India. China, India
1347 Epidemic The plague spreads to Constantinople, a major port city. It also infects the Black Sea port of Kaffa down from southern Russia. Turkey, Ukraine
1347 Epidemic Italian traders bring the plague in rat-infested ships from Constantinople to Sicily, which becomes the first place in Europe to suffer the Black death epidemic. The same year, Venice is also hit. Italy
1347–1350 Medical development During the 1347–1350 outbreak, doctors are completely unable to prevent or cure the plague. Some of the cures they try include cooked onions, ten-year-old treacle, arsenic, crushed emeralds, sitting in the sewers, sitting in a room between two enormous fires, fumigating the house with herbs, trying to stop God punishing the sick for their sin. Flagellants would go on processions whipping themselves.
1348 Medical development Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio in his book Decameron writes a description of symptoms of the plague. Italy
1348–1350 Epidemic The Black Death arrives at Melcombe Regis in the south of England. Over the next year, the plague spreads into Wales, Ireland and Northern England. By 1350, the plague reaches Scotland. The estimated death toll for the British Isles and Ireland is calculated at 3.2 million. United Kingdom, Ireland
1349 Genocide Black Death Jewish persecutions. A rumor rises claiming that Jews are responsible for the plague as an attempt to kill Christians and dominate the world. Supported by a widely distributed report of the trial of Jews who supposedly had poisoned wells in Switzerland, the rumor spreads quickly. As a result, a wave of pogroms against Jews breaks out. Christians start to attack Jews in their communities, burning their homes, and murder them with clubs and axes. In the Strasbourg massacre, it is estimated that people locked up and burned 900 Jews alive. Finally, Pope Clement VI issues a religious order to stop the violence against the Jews, claiming that the plague is “the result of an angry God striking at the Christian people for their sins.” France, Switzerland
1351 Epidemic Black Death epidemic reaches Russia, attacking Novgorod and reaching Pskov, before being temporarily suppressed by the Russian winter. Russia
1352 Epidemic The plague reaches Moscow, only a few hundred miles from Caffa, the first city struck by the epidemic. Thus, the Black Death completes a great circle, killing from one-third to one-half of medieval Europe’s total population. Russia
1361–1364 Medical development During an outbreak, doctors learn how to help the patient recover by bursting the buboes.
1374 Epidemic Black Death epidemic re-emerges in Europe. In Venice, various public health controls such as isolating victims from healthy people and preventing ships with disease from landing at port are instituted.
1377 Program launch The Republic of Ragusa establishes a landing station for vessels far from the city and harbour in which travellers suspected to have the plague must spend thirty days, to see whether they became ill and died or whether they remained healthy and could leave. Croatia
After finding thirty days isolation to be too short, Venice dictates that travellers from the Levant in the eastern Mediterranean be isolated in a hospital for forty days, the quarantena or quaranta giorni, from which the term quarantine is derived. Italy
1629–1631 Epidemic The Italian plague of 1629–1631 develops as a series of outbreaks of bubonic plague. About 280,000 people are estimated to be killed in Lombardy and other territories of northern Italy. The Italian plague is estimated to have claimed between 35 and 69 percent of the local population. Italy
1637 Epidemic Plague breaks out in Andalusia, killing about 20,000 people in less than four months. Spain
1647–1652 Epidemic Plague ravages Spain. About 30,000 die in Valencia. The great Plague of Seville breaks out. Spain
1665–1666 Epidemic Great Plague of London. 100,000 people are killed within 18 months. United Kingdom
1679 Epidemic The Great Plague of Vienna kills at least 76,000 people. Austria
1722 Publication Daniel Defoe publishes A Journal of the Plague Year, a fictional account of the Great Plague of London in 1665. This novel is often read as non-fiction. United Kingdom
1738 Epidemic Great Plague of 1738 kills at least 36,000 people. Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Austria
1772–1850 Epidemic The human plague is reported intermittently in the Chinese province of Yunnan, where the third plague pandemic would begin in the 1860s. China
1867 Epidemic The plague spreads from Yunnan Province to Beihai on the Chinese coastline. China
1869 Epidemic The plague is observed in Taiwan. Taiwan
1894 Epidemic The plague spreads to Guangzhou Province and results in the death of about 70,000 people. China
1894 Scientific development Working independently, both French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin and Japanese bacteriologist Shibasaburo Kitasato isolate the bacterium that causes bubonic plague. Yersin discovers that rodents are the mode of infection. The bacterium is named yersinia pestis after Yersin.
1896–1897 Medical development Russian bacteriologist Waldemar Haffkine successfully protects rabbits against an inoculation of virulent plague microbes, by treating them previously with a subcutaneous injection of a culture of the microbes in broth. The first vaccine for bubonic plague is developed. The rabbits treated in this way become immune to plague. In the next year, Haffkine causes himself to be inoculated with a similar preparation, thus proving in his own person the harmlessness of the fluid. This is considered the first vaccine against bubonic plague. India (Bombay)
1899 Epidemic Plague is first introduced in Latin America in Paraguay, followed by Brazil and Argentina in the same year. Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina
1901 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Uruguay. Uruguay
1902 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Mexico. Mexico
1903 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Chile and Peru. Chile, Peru
1905 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Panama. Panama
1908 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Ecuador and Venezuela. Ecuador, Venezuela
1910 Epidemic Pneumonic plague breaks out in Manchuria, killing about 60,000 people over the course of a year. China
1912 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Cuba, Puerto Rico
1921 Epidemic Plague infection is first reported in Bolivia. Bolivia
1924–1925 Epidemic Plague breaks out in Los Angeles. 32 people get infected and only 2 survive. It is the last rat-borne epidemic occurring in the United States. United States
1947 Publication French novelist Albert Camus publishes The Plague, a novel about a fictional outbreak of plague in Oran, Algeria. The book helps to show the effects the plague has on a populace. France
1994 Epidemic Plague in India. The country experiences a large outbreak of pneumonic plague after 30 years with no reports of the disease. 693 suspected bubonic or pneumonic plague cases are reported. India
2003 Epidemic An outbreak of plague is reported in Algeria, in an area considered plague-free for 50 years. Algeria
2006 Epidemic 100 cases of suspected pneumonic plague, including 19 deaths, are reported in Orientale Province, Congo. Democratic Republic of the Congo
2006 Epidemic 13 cases, with two deaths, are reported in the states of New Mexico, Colorado, California, and Texas. United States
2009 Infection Plague is reported in Libya, after 25 years without a case of the disease. Libya
2013 Infection A case of bubonic plague is reported in a region of Kyrgyzstan bordering Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan
2013 Infection 783 cases of plague are reported worldwide in 2013, including 126 deaths.
2014 Scientific development Researchers at Duke University School of Medicine and Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore find the yersinia pestis bacteria to hitchhike on immune cells in the lymph nodes and eventually ride into the lungs and the blood stream, thus spreading bubonic plague effectively to others. United States, Singapore
Timeline of cholera Timeline of tuberculosis Timeline of typhus
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