Fact Check: 15 Global Pandemics Did NOT All Originate In China

Fact Check

  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fact Check: 15 Global Pandemics Did NOT All Originate In China Other Origins

Did 15 of the deadliest pandemics in global history originate in China? No, that's not true: Internet users are sharing an original infographic that has been altered to claim that most of the world's deadliest pandemics can be traced back to China. However, some of the outbreaks did not actually derive from that country.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) published on Twitter by @SHARKSURVIVOR1 on April 11, 2020. It opened:

Look at this image: FIFTEEN pandemics have originated in China. Are they releasing these on purpose, or are all of these deadly agents coming from their filthy third world Petri dish wet markets?

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 12.56.11 PM.png

The original infographic was published online by Visual Capitalist, a site that creates data-driven visuals to tell stories.

However, another Internet user applied computer drawing tools over the original graphic to add circles along with the caption, "O=Originated in China." The new claim is that 15 of the deadliest pandemics in world history started in China.

This is not entirely true. Lead Stories will break down each outbreak that was circled on the graphic:

  • Black Death (Bubonic Plague) - Originally thought to have originated in China, ancient DNA testing has traced the inception to Russia's Volga region, according to the journal Science.
  • Smallpox - "Smallpox is thought to have originated in India or Egypt at least 3,000 years ago," National Geographic reported.
  • Spanish Flu - A misnomer for the 1918 influenza pandemic because it is not believed to have originated in the Iberian peninsula. According to History.com, "France, China and Britain have all been suggested as the potential birthplace of the virus, as has the United States."
  • Plague of Justinian - It originated from China and India, according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  • The Third Plague - It began in China, according to The Royal Society's research journal.
  • Antonine Plague - Historians believe it can be traced to the Middle East.
  • 17th Century Great Plagues - According to a report in USA Today, DNA tests revealed that bacteria that caused the Bubonic Plague and that had laid dormant triggered the 17th Century Great Plague in London. As we noted above, that is now believed to have originated from Russia.
  • Russian Flu - According to the Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, most historians place the source for the outbreak in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
  • Hong Kong Flu - It originated in China, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • Japanese Smallpox Epidemic - Historians believe it was introduced to Japanese fishermen during their time on the Korean peninsula.
  • 18th Century Great Plagues - It arrived in Marseilles, France, on a ship that originated in Cyprus, according to reports.
  • Swine Flu - Originated in Mexico, according to researchers.
  • SARS - Scientists traced the origins to Guangdong Province in China.
  • Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) - While the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, scientists are still trying to determine its exact origin.

As our reporting demonstrates, the post is partly false in suggesting that all 15 of the global pandemics circled on the infographic originated from China. At least seven, possibly more, of the outbreaks can be traced to other parts of the world.

Also, it is worth noting that hate crimes against people of Asian descent have increased since the term "Chinese virus" started being used, including by President Trump, to describe the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The president received much backlash for use of the term, and it has resulted in charges of racism against him and others.

Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Read more about or contact Ryan Cooper

About us

International Fact-Checking Organization

Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, deceptive or inaccurate stories (or media) making the rounds on the internet.
Spotted something? Let us know!.

Lead Stories is a:


Follow us on social media

Most Read

Most Recent

Share your opinion