World Facts

The Deadliest Viruses Around The World

Ebola first broke out in 1976, and had a mortality rate of 90%. There is no standard treatment for Ebola, but public health measures have been able to reduce its impact.

No one really knows what the first kind of virus was, but it is generally accepted that viruses have been around just as long (or longer) than humans. According to The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 219 virus species have been identified that can infect humans, and the first one was recognized as the yellow fever virus. This happened in 1901, and approximately three to four more species are discovered each year.

Going back even further, an NBC article posted in January of 2020 described how scientists had discovered mysterious viruses in a glacier located on China’s northwestern Tibetan Plateau. It contained 28 never-seen-before virus groups.

Viruses and Humans

The human race has been battling viruses for millennia, and the majority of viruses have pathogenic relationships that cause diseases in their hosts. These can range from mild colds to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and death. On the other end of the spectrum, some viruses can fight other more dangerous viruses; others kill bacteria. Humans also have some protective viruses in their bodies.

The three deadliest viruses known to humans are Ebola, Marburg, and Nipah, and they are rare. COVID-19’s mortality rates are far lower than these. The chart below lists the ten deadliest viruses on record:

Ebola

Ebola (EVD) first appeared back in 1976 in Sudan, Nzara, and Yambuku, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is named after the Ebola River, where a nearby village’s residents were infected. At the time, the mortality rate was close to 90 percent. The largest outbreak started in Guinea in February of 2014, and it spread to Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Spain, and the U.S. Subsequent outbreaks showed case fatality rates varying from about 25 to 90 percent.

Ebola gets transmitted from human-to-human contact via body fluids or blood, contaminated objects, bush meat, and infected animals. It incubates for two to 21 days and presents with an acute onset. There is no standard treatment for Ebola, but public health measures and new measures have been able to reduce its impact.

Marburg

This deadly virus was discovered in 1967, infects humans and non-human primates, and is part of the same virus family (filovirus) as Ebola. The first outbreak happened in laboratories in Yugoslavia (now Serbia) and Germany. Thirty-one people were infected, including laboratory workers, medical personnel, and family members. This virus was traced back to an African fruit bat and is not thought to be native to other continents.

1. Nipah

Nipah virus (NiV) belongs to the Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus family. It was identified in 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore, among pig farmers and others in close contact with pigs. It is named after the Sungai Nipah village, where pig farmers had fallen ill with encephalitis. Nipah caused mild disease in the pigs, but close to 300 humans were infected, with over 100 reported dead. Over one million pigs had to be euthanized.

Then in 2001, there was a second outbreak in Bangladesh, although the strain was different. That same year, a third outbreak was identified in Siliguri, India. Since then, there have been repeated outbreaks in both Bangladesh and India.

The Deadliest Viruses Around The World

RankVirusYear IdentifiedFatality Rate
1Ebola197625 - 90%
2Marburg196780%
3Nipah 199877.60%
4Hendra 199457%
5H5N1 Bird Flu199752.80%
6H7N9 Bird Flu 201339.30%
7MERS201234.40%
8SARS20029.60%
9COVID-1920202.20%
10H1N120090.02%

About the Author

Ellen Kershner is a South Jersey-based writer who contributes to WorldAtlas.com, 55places.com, Natural Awakenings Magazine, Spryte Communications, Advanta Advertising, and Premier Legal Marketing. Her work has also been published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ed Hitzel’s Restaurant Magazine, and the Burlington County NJ Trend newspaper group.  

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