From the Black Death to Monkeypox – the killer diseases emerging worldwide alongside Covid as world battles pandemic

As the battle against coronavirus continues, the world is yet to breathe a sigh of relief -as deadly diseases continue to emerge across the globe at a frightening rate.

Cases of "zoonotic" diseases – infections that jump from animals to humans – are relentlessly cropping up as the world grapples to control the current pandemic.

Highly contagious with high fatalities, these diseases threaten to further disrupt civilisation as we know it – and out of the 1.67million unknown viruses on the planet up to 827,000 of these could have the ability to infect people from animals, according to the EcoHealth Alliance.

Experts have even warned the next pandemic could be on the same scale as the Black Death, which is estimated to have killed 75million people.

As the human population swells and moves further into animal habitats, the risk of the transmission of diseases to humans grows – so what do we know about what are we facing right now?


Among numerous cases across the world, two cases of monkeypox have recently been reported in the UK – only the fifth and sixth cases to be found in the country.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease were detected in a group of monkeys kept for research – hence the name monkeypox.

More than 30 cases of the virus were reported in the animals at the time – but none of the creatures died and there was no spread from monkeys to humans.

The first human case of viral zoonotic disease was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a nine-year-old boy.

The virus spreads through close physical contact and infiltrates the body through broken skin, respiratory droplets or contaminated objects.

Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion.

A rash can then develop, which spreads before eventually developing into oozing scabs that then fall off.


The Black Death holds a remarkable place in history as one of the most devastating epidemics to ever grip the globe.

The latest outbreak of the highly infectious and often fatal disease occurred in the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo in May this year.

Victims were left vomiting blood and 11 people died, sparking fears of a repeat performance of the horrors of the 14th century.

Cases of the bubonic plague were reported in Ituri since 2020, with 461 infections and 31 deaths recorded in eight health zones, according to the Independent.

The plague, that killed an estimated 75million people in the 1300s, is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis that often infects small rodents (such as rats, mice, and squirrels) and is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected flea.

Symptoms are typically "flu-like" and sufferers are likely to experience painful lymph nodes, chills, fever, headaches, weakness, and fatigue.


The West Nile virus is a non-contagious illness spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes in foreign countries, that was first discovered in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937.

The first confirmed case of the virus was found in a man in June this year in Seville, in the Andalucia region of Spain.

It sparked fears the virus, which can viciously attack the neurological system, could spread across Spain and cripple medics who are already under pressure from the influx of coronavirus patients.

The Health Minstry reported seven deaths and recorded 71 cases of the West Nile virus.

Approximately 80% of sufferers have no symptoms, but some can develop mild flu-like symptoms, a skin rash, and could experience nausea.

But vulnerable patients and those aged over 50 can become seriously ill.

Serious infection can cause patients to experience muscle weakness, confusion, paralysis, and seizures, according to the WHO.

Mild cases do not usually require any treatment, although critical cases can require medical assistance.

In rare cases, the virus can develop into meningitis and encephalitis.


Bird flu, sometimes known as avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads amongst birds, which can also be passed on to humans through close contact with an infected animal.

China confirmed the world's first human case of the H10N3 bird flu in May, identified in a 41-year-old man from Zhenjiang, but health officials reassured the public that: "the risk of large-scale transmission is low."

It was the latest health woe for the country, who are already under scrutiny over suspicions that coronavirus originated in Wuhan.

Experts say there have only been approximately 160 isolated of the virus reported over the course of 40 years.

There are numerous strains of the flu, which don't all infect humans – although some – HN51, H7N9, H5N6 and H5N8 – have caused concern in recent years.

The virus was first identified in Southern China and Honk Kong in 1996.

Sufferers primarily experience rapid symptoms, including respiratory issues, fever, aching muscles, a cough, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and sickness.

This can then lead to severe complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome – meaning quick medical attention is vital.

It is mostly found in wild birds or waterfowl in Asia and a few areas of North America, but none had been detected in chickens so far, Claes explained.


Hantaviruses are a family of virus that spreads through rodents, according to the CDC, that can be infect humans who come into contact with their urine, faeces, and saliva.

With a mortality rate of just 38%, the news of a Michigan woman contracting the Sin Nombre strain of the rare virus sparked panic across the world in June.

The woman is thought to have been exposed to the deadly illness when cleaning out a vacant home that had been infested with rats.

The first recorded human cases of hantavirus were found in the 'Four Corners' of the southwest US – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah – in 1993.

Scientists found in 1993 that each hantavirus strain spreads through a specific rodent – but all can lead to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease.

Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, as well as dizziness, chills and abdominal issues. Patients may then experience a shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid.

The CDC has only reported 21 cases of the hantavirus in the US from 1993 through 2018.


Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, commonly spread to humans through exposure to food and other items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported 286 confirmed cases since the beginning of this year in Edo, Ondo, and Taraba and 58 deaths.

It is typically found in the rodent population in West Africa, but can spread from person-to-person and in laboratories.

It is often indistinguishable from other haemorrhagic illnesses such as Ebola, yellow fever, and malaria, and has prompted the Ondo government of Nigeria to attempt to rid the state of rats.

Around 80% of sufferers present no symptoms – but one in five infections result in severe illness, as the virus penetrates organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys. 

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