Emerging Microbes

Every age has had its emerging infectious diseases. Microbes and the diseases they cause are organized here by the era that they first emerged as a major threat to human populations. Some of them like malaria have been major pathogens since they emerged in the depths of Antiquity (or before). Others have come and gone, and some are still in their first emergence. All of them are interesting for our understanding of history and are still relevant for our future.

Paleomicrobiology & Epidemiology

Antiquity (before c. 400 AD/CE)

Varicella-Zoster Virus (chicken pox and shingles)


Malaria (Plasmodium species)

Leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae, before 2000 BCE)

Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorferi, 5300 BP)

Trench Fever (Bartonella quintana, 4000 BP)

Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)


Medieval (c. 400-1400 AD/CE)

Black Death at Tourinai, 1349

The Plague (Yersinia pestis, first pandemic 541 AD/CE)

Yellow Fever (6th – 13th century)

Measles (11th-12th century)

Modern (1400-present)

Red Cross during the Spanish Flu, St Louis, 1918

Influenza (first pandemic 1510)


Cholera (Vibrio cholerae, first pandemic 1832)

Dengue Fever

Ebola virus (20th century)

Zika Virus (early 21st century)

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