Historical Death Toll due to Disease

Historical Death Toll due to Disease

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I am trying to calculate the number of deaths due to pestilence from 1750-1800,1800-1850,1850-1900,1900-1950,1950-2000, and 2000-2014.

Wikipedia has good information on many:

I started adding up the numbers, but then it becomes very vague for some of the most serious diseases: small pox, measles, tuberculosis, malaria.

Does anyone know where I can get this information? I don't need it broken down by disease necessarily, I'm really just looking for an overall death toll.

Chart: What Killed Us, Then and Now

The New England Journal of Medicine combed through 100 years of history to produce a single, awesome graph.

Via The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff comes this incredible chart from the New England Journal of Medicine comparing the reasons we die now to the way Americans went to their graves a century ago:

The chart ranks the top ten causes of death for each year. In addition to the remarkable decline in mortality overall, it's also noticeable how heart disease and cancer have surged to become two of America's top killers. In 1900, cancer and heart disease accounted for 18 percent of all deaths. Today, that figure's jumped to 63 percent. In addition to being responsible for a greater share of deaths overall, the absolute number of people being killed by these chronic conditions has also grown, from 201 people out of every 100,000 in 1900 to nearly 380 per 100,000 today.

Part of the increase can be traced to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. But we shouldn't forget that vaccines, regular screenings, and other advances in medicine have drastically reduced the incidence of other ailments that once sealed many an American's fate. The way we've chopped up and redefined some conditions has also changed the country's death profile. There's the seemingly endless "discovery" of new diseases. And it's worth pointing out that the rise of cancer and heart disease, as illnesses that generally affect people late in life, are themselves an indicator of improvements in a society's overall health. The fact that more people are living long enough to be diagnosed with cancer says something about how far we've come.

What we get from each cross-section of death isn't just a snapshot of what's objectively happening to people it's also a reflection of our attitudes toward specific illnesses. The authors explain:

1. The Black Death (1346 to 1353) – 200 million dead

The Black Plague continues to be the deadliest outbreak on record with the highest death rate, wiping out a quarter of the planet’s population. There have been many books, motion pictures, and myths about The Black Death, and researchers accept the theory that it began with fleas living on rats aboard merchant ships.

What we do know is that the Bubonic Plague devastated three continents. This is one of the worst epidemics in history with the highest death rate. It took about a decade before the plague became a footnote in history.

9. Hong Kong Flu: China (1968-1970)

Influenza A pandemics have occurred multiple times throughout history when new, deadly strains of the influenza A virus evolved. The adaptability of the flu is why flu shots change each year.

The Hong Kong flu (H3N2) originated in China and was the second-worst flu pandemic of the 20th century, behind the famous 1918 Spanish flu featured later on this list. While this pandemic was much less deadly than the one in 1918, the virus was especially infectious, contributing to its spread around the world. Within two weeks, the virus had moved throughout southeast Asia, and within two months it had made its way across the ocean into the Americas, later spreading to Europe, Africa, and Australia.

Although we are no longer in the midst of a flu pandemic, H3N2 has stuck around as one strain of seasonal flu we see every year.

Late 19th-Century Maps Show Measles Mortality Before Vaccines

These maps of measles mortality appeared in three late-19 th -century statistical atlases published by the Census Office. Experiments in data visualization, the atlases are modern in their scope and ambition. Since they were compiled in a time before the availability of vaccines for most childhood diseases (with smallpox being the exception), they are a good record of the former pervasiveness of measles.

In a brief history of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control writes that between 1953 and 1963, when the measles vaccine became available, “nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age.” Yearly, “400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.” (Writer Roald Dahl’s daughter, who died in 1962 and is the subject of this 1988 Dahl letter urging parents to vaccinate, was afflicted by this complication.)

While late-19 th -century medicine didn’t yet have a vaccine for the disease, doctors knew that it was easily transmissible. “Measles is a very infectious disease,” warned Dr. John Dewar in an 1890 book written for mothers and titled What Ails The Baby? “If a child be only taken into a room for a very short time, where another child is suffering from measles, it is almost certain to take it.” The 1898 map, second below, shows a pattern of measles deaths that is strikingly aligned with the course of the Mississippi River, illustrating how transmission could have been aided by river travel.

Click on the images below to reach zoomable versions, or see their pages on the David Rumsey Map Collection site.

250,000 lives lost: How the pandemic compares to other deadly events in U.S. history

At least 250,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, since February, and many public health officials warn the pandemic is just entering its deadliest phase. Yet, as the country confronts this horrifying death toll, there is little understanding of what a loss of this size represents.

Here is some historical perspective about losing a quarter of a million people, looking at major events in our past that have cost American lives.

More than 58,000 Americans were killed during the decade-plus of involvement in the Vietnam War. So the pandemic’s fatalities represent four Vietnam Wars since February.

During the Korean War, nearly 37,000 Americans were lost covid-19 has claimed nearly seven times more.

During World War II, the country mourned 405,000 members of the “Greatest Generation.” The pandemic has taken nearly two-thirds as many people, a lot of them old enough to remember the fight against the Nazis and the Japanese.

And World War I? 116,000 U.S. dead in two years of fighting. The pandemic has more than doubled that number in a fraction of the time.

What about our deadliest conflict, the Civil War? Death toll estimates range from 600,000 to 850,000. Even at the high end of that range, the pandemic has permanently taken nearly 30 percent as many family members from Thanksgiving tables.

On Sept. 11, 2001, almost 3,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa.

The deadliest day of the pandemic so far — Sept. 18 — surpassed that, at 3,660 deaths. Wednesday, as the virus surged across the country, the daily death toll had risen again to 1,894. Public health officials fear that by the end of this month, the United States could lose more people per day from the pandemic than the 2,403 Americans killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Causes of death over 100 years

Explore and learn more about how the causes of death have changed over the last century.

We are living longer than we did 100 years ago because of advances in medical science as well as better sanitation, nutrition and hygiene.

Just over a century ago the average life expectancy at birth for a man was 48.4 years, whereas women could expect to live to 54.0.

Fast forward from 1915 to 2015 and a man’s life span extended by 31 years and almost 29 years for a woman (79.3 and 82.9 respectively).

A change in the top cause of death

The top causes of death at the start of the 20th century were very different to those that we see today. This may partially be explained by improvements in medical knowledge that have led to a more comprehensive classification system.

In 1915, people were dying in large numbers from infections, but by 2015, the most common causes of death were related to cancer, heart conditions or external causes.

Top causes of death by age and sex, 1915 to 2015

Explore the top cause of death, by age and sex, by dragging your cursor (or tap your finger) across a coloured square:

Figures for deaths of those aged under one have been excluded from this chart.

A full list of the top 10 underlying causes of death, with International Classification of Diseases (ICD codes), by age-group and sex can be found in the data download.

Between 1915 and 1945, infections were generally the leading cause of death for young and middle-aged males and females. For those aged one to four, infections remained the leading cause until 2005, with the exception of 1975 and 1985.

There was a dramatic decline in the number of people dying from infectious diseases in the 20th century. Poliomyelitis (polio), diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella were all virtually wiped out during the second half of the 20th century, after childhood immunisation was introduced.

Motor vehicle incidents began to emerge as a leading cause of death in young males and females in 1945. The number of road deaths of young people may be attributable to the existence of the Blackout during World War II, when vehicles drove in total darkness. This trend continued until 1985, where the percentage of deaths to motor vehicle accidents began decreasing, perhaps due to the introduction of compulsory seat belts in 1983.

From 1985 onwards, external causes such as drug misuse, suicide and self-harm were the leading cause of death for young people, particularly affecting men more than women.

Meanwhile heart conditions dominated as the leading cause of death for middle-to older-aged males from 1945 onwards. A similar trend was seen in females during this period, but at older ages while younger to middle-aged females more frequently died of breast cancer.

Overall trends in deaths, 1915 to 2015

Not only have the causes of death changed over time, but so have the number of people dying.

The number of deaths in England and Wales has decreased in the past century, whereas there has been an increase in the population particularly the number of elderly people.

In 1915, there were 562,253 deaths in England and Wales, compared with 529,655 deaths in 2015, a decrease of 5.8%.

Deaths in England and Wales, 1915 to 2015

Note: Figures do not include deaths to those whose usual residence is England or Wales and have died abroad, ie those serving and who died in the World Wars overseas.

The overall population of England and Wales rose by 64.0% between 1915 and 2015, from 35.3 million to 57.9 million. The population also aged considerably over this period, with 0.6% of the population aged 80 and over in 1915 compared with 4.8% in 2015.

In 1915, 47,946 people aged 80 and over died by 2015, the number of deaths at this age had increased by 524.1% to 299,254 people.

Death rate by age, England and Wales, 1915 to 2015

Note: Rates for those under one year old are deaths per 1,000 live births, rates for other ages are deaths per 1,000 population.

However, the number of deaths per 1,000 of the population aged 80 and over decreased by 49.3% from 212.2 in 1915 to 107.5 in 2015.

A similar pattern can be seen in infant deaths (under one year) where the deaths per 1,000 of live births decreased by 96.4% from 109.7 in 1915 to just 3.9 in 2015.

Considerable drop in the number of child deaths

The drop in the number of deaths for children aged four and under is a prime illustration of the dramatic change in childhood mortality over the century.

In 1915, there were 89,380 deaths of children aged under one, compared with just 2,721 in 2015. The number of deaths of one-to four-year-olds was 55,607 in 1915, while it was 460 in 2015.

Childhood death numbers, England and Wales, 1915 to 2015

Mass vaccination programmes largely eradicated diseases that had killed thousands of children between 1915 and 2015.

The improvements in mortality were attributed to rising standards of living, especially improvements in nutrition and hygiene, in addition to the decline in deaths from airborne disease.

One hundred years from now, perhaps medical advances will have progressed further for us to live even longer.

U.S. Death Rate 1950-2021

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U.S. Death Rate 1950-2021

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Overall Decline in Death Rate

Influenza death rates in the United States substantially declined across the 20th century, in line with the simultaneous decline in the mortality burden from most infectious diseases, often referred to as the 𠇎pidemiological transition.𠇗 (p61) In particular, influenza death rates dropped sharply around the end of World War II (1944� Figure 1 ▶ ).

Crude mortality per 100000 population, by influenza season (July to June of the following year), for seasons 1900� to 2003� (a) and 1930� to 2003� (b), United States.

Note. International Classification of Diseases (ICD) revision 1 was used from 1900 to 1909, revision 2 from 1910 to 1920, revision 3 from 1921 to 1929. Comparability ratios are unavailable for revisions 1 to 3. Beginning in 1930, influenza mortality rates have been adjusted for changes in ICD revisions to reflect conditions in the current ICD revision 10.

Similarity Between Pandemic and Nonpandemic Influenza Seasons

With the notable exception of the 1918 pandemic, each influenza pandemic season was less lethal than the prior one, reflecting the overall seasonal trend in influenza deaths. Compared with nonpandemic seasons, the 1957� and 1968� pandemics do not stand out as exceptional outliers, nor were these pandemics visually discernable from nonpandemics in seasonal (Figure 1 ▶ ) or monthly (Figure 2 ▶ ) influenza mortality graphs. In fact, although nonpandemic influenza seasonal death rates never exceeded prior pandemic seasonal death rates, many nonpandemic seasons were more deadly than subsequent pandemics. For example, the 1941�, 1942�, 1943�, 1944�, 1945�, 1946�, and 1952� nonpandemic seasons were all deadlier than the 1957� pandemic season. Similarly, the 1959� nonpandemic season was almost as deadly as the 1968� pandemic season (Table 1 ▶ ).


Comparison of Adjusted Influenza Death Rates for 12 Influenza Seasons: United States, 1941�

Influenza Deaths per 100 000 Population
1941�Nonpandemic9. a
1942�Nonpandemic10. a 19.720.815.08.84.4
1943�Nonpandemic22. a 29.419.411.96.63.5
1944�Nonpandemic7. a
1945�Nonpandemic11. a 34.219.311.
1946�Nonpandemic6. a
1952�Nonpandemic5. a
1957�Pandemic5. a
1959�Nonpandemic4. a
1967�Nonpandemic2. a
1968�Pandemic4. a
1975�Nonpandemic3. a

a Denotes peak monthly mortality during given season.

Crude influenza-classed mortality per 100 000 population, by month, for 1900� (a) and 1930� (b), United States.

Note. International Classification of Diseases (ICD) revision 1 was used from 1900 to 1909, revision 2 from 1910 to 1920, revision 3 from 1921 to 1929. Comparability ratios are unavailable for revisions 1 to 3. Beginning in 1930, influenza mortality rates have been adjusted for changes in ICD revisions to reflect conditions in the current ICD revision 10.

Monthly influenza death rates revealed no trends in the temporal distribution of influenza mortality, for both pandemic and nonpandemic seasons (see figure available as a supplement to the online version of this article at Influenza-classed deaths occurred most heavily in the winter months, as was expected, but their spread was at times narrow and at other times broad. In the 1967� nonpandemic, for example, the death rate increased from 3.0 deaths per 100 000 population in December to 17.1 per 100 000 in January and declined to 4.2 per 100 000 in February. By contrast, in the 1957� pandemic, the influenza death rate remained above 5.5 per 100 000 population for 6 months, peaking at 18.8 deaths per 100 000 in November. Two years later, however, in the 1959� season, the influenza death rate was elevated only for 3 months, showing that mortality impact can vary widely from season to season (Table 1 ▶ ).

Pandemic years were difficult to distinguish from nonpandemic seasons, even in terms of peak monthly mortality. For example, in March of the 1975� nonpandemic season (the season prior to the swine flu scare), the recorded influenza death rate was 22.1 per 100 000 population, nearly as high as the 1968� pandemic peak of 23.3 per 100 000 in January 1969. Likewise, the influenza monthly mortality rate reached 21.9 per 100 000 in February 1960 (a nonpandemic year), surpassing the peak mortality rate of the 1957� pandemic (18.8 per 100 000) 2 years earlier (Table 1 ▶ ).

List of Old or Obsolete Diseases and Medical Terms

  • Ablepsy - Blindness.
  • Ague - Used to describe intermittent fever and chills usually, but not always, associated with malaria. Also called febrile intermittens.
  • Aphonia - A suppression of the voice laryngitis.
  • Apoplexy - A disease in which the patient falls down suddenly without other sense or motion stroke.
  • Bilious remitting fever - Dengue fever.
  • Break-bone or Break-heart fever - Dengue fever.
  • Biliousness - Jaundice.
  • Bloody Flux - Dysentery an inflammation of the intestine causing diarrhea with blood.
  • Brain Fever - An inflammation of the brain, used to describe one of several different brain infections including encephalitis, meningitis and cerebritis.
  • Camp Fever - Typhus.
  • Chlorosis - Anemia also called green sickness.
  • Cholera infantum - Infant diarrhea sometimes called "summer diarrhea" or "summer complaint."
  • Catarrh - This term is still in use today to describe excessive buildup of mucus in the nose or throat, associated with inflammation of the mucous membrane. However, in the 19th century the term was used more generally to describe upper respiratory ailments such as bronchitis or the common cold.
  • Consumption - Tuberculosis.
  • Creeping paralysis - Syphilis.
  • Debility - Used to describe "failure to thrive" in infancy, or in old age due to loss of weight from undiagnosed cancer or other disorder.
  • Dropsy - Edema often caused by congestive heart failure.
  • Dyspepsia - Acid indigestion or heartburn.
  • Falling sickness - Epilepsy.
  • French pox or French disease - Syphilis.
  • Green sickness - Anemia also called chlorosis.
  • Grip or Grippe - Influenza.
  • Marasmus - A wasting of the flesh without fever or apparent disease severe malnutrition.
  • Milk sickness - Poisoning from drinking milk from cows that have eaten the white snakeroot plant found only in the midwest United States.
  • Mortification - Gangrene necrosis.
  • Nostalgia - Homesickness yes, this was occasionally listed as a cause of death.
  • Phthisis - The French word for "consumption" tuberculosis.
  • Quinsy - A peritonsillar abscess, a known complication of tonsillitis.
  • Scrumpox - Skin disease usually an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus.

Additional Sources for Historical Medical Terms & Conditions