10 Diseases That Totally Changed the World

It’s no secret that infectious diseases have had a profound impact on our world. They alter populations, impede progress, and can even be cause for new inventions. Here, we’ll take a look at 10 diseases that made a major change in our world, whether for good, bad, or both at the same time.

  1. Smallpox: Smallpox was an extremely infectious disease that wiped out entire empires. It began in northern Africa, and popped up time and time again in repeat epidemics. It killed royalty and the poor alike, not controlled until the development of the world’s first vaccine in the 1700s.
  2. Tuberculosis: While we have smallpox to thank for vaccines, we have tuberculosis for the promotion of pasteurization and the quest for antibiotics. Pasteurization was key to controlling TB, as it heats and kills TB pathogens and other contaminants in milk.
  3. Autism: Autism is a terrible disease, leaving sufferers with the inability to fully relate to others and become obsessively locked into tasks. In its own strange way, autism has benefited the world by allowing scientists such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein to produce the work of multiple people in their own lifetimes.
  4. Influenza (all): Whether it’s H1N1, Avian, or the seemingly innocuous flu many suffer from each year, influenza is a serious illness. Influenza in all forms has had a major impact on the number of deaths in the modern world. It also influenced the course of WWI, killing soldiers and putting a strain on military health care.
  5. Malaria: Malaria is a disease that is still prevalent in underdeveloped countries today. There is a cure for malaria now, but for more than a thousand years, there was none. Its cure, quinine, has a story that changed the world.
  6. Cholera: Cholera is a disease that’s spread through a lack of clean water and poor or nonexistent sewage systems. The existence of this disease required a change, in the form of improved sanitation, which reduced cholera’s impact.
  7. Bubonic plague: Also known as The Black Death, the bubonic plague was an incredibly devastating pandemic, which is estimated to have wiped out 75-200 million people in the 14th century, including 30%-60% of Europe’s population. It took Europe’s population 150 years to recover.
  8. Epilepsy: The neurological disease epilepsy causes seizures, which include body clenching, shouting, and occasionally, strange visions. Some experts believe that prophets including Ezekiel, Joseph Smith, and Joan of Arc may have suffered from epilepsy, which would explain their religious visions.
  9. Polio: Polio was a worldwide epidemic between 1840 and the 1950s, causing infections and even paralysis. Jonas Salk changed the world when he developed the inactivated polio virus vaccine in 1952, which causes nearly all who receive the vaccine to develop protective antibodies that prevent the disease.
  10. Yellow Fever: Like malaria, yellow fever is a mosquito-borne disease that has not been eradicated. This disease, which causes aching, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, and other symptoms, can lead to multi-organ dysfunction and even death. It is believed to have influenced the Louisiana Purchase, pre WWII development in the US, and the Panama Canal. Its impact is limited primarily to the southern US, where mosquitoes can survive the winter.

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