Annual deaths due to the Third Plague Pandemic in Hong Kong 1894-1902

The Third Plague Pandemic began in the 1850s in the Yunnan region of China. While the plague became endemic to Yunnan over the next few decades, it was not until 1894 that it reached epidemic levels in Hong Kong, taking almost 2,500 lives in that year, and seeing the evacuation of almost one third of Hong Kong's inhabitants. From 1894 to 1902, the disease was continuously re-introduced to the city through maritime trade, with varying fatality rates, however it would take almost ten thousand lives in the city over these years.

Scientific significance

With the plague's arrival in the British Empire, this was one of the first cases where biologists began to study the disease, and much of what we know today comes from the studies carried out in Hong Kong. For example, "Yersinia pestis", the bacteria which causes the plague, was first identified by the French-Swiss scientist Andre Yersin in 1894 (though he originally named it in honor of Louis Pasteur, and it not take Yersin's name until 1944). Scientists in Hong Kong also helped to demonstrate the link between rat infestations and the plague, and the different forms of plague infection in rats. The link between rat fleas and the spreading of plague would not be expanded upon until 2013, however much of this work would not have been possible without the work of European and Japanese scientists in Hong Kong at the turn of the twentieth century.

Number of deaths due to plague in Hong Kong during the Third Plague Pandemic from 1894 to 1902

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Release date

May 2020


Hong Kong

Survey time period

1894 to 1902

Supplementary notes

*The share of deaths in the first six months of each year are as follows:
1896: 92% (1,116)
1898: 99% (1,312)
1899: 72% (1,072)
1900: 70% (764)
1901: 90% (1,487)

**310 of these cases occurred between March and July. Of these 310; 171 were bubonic plague, 126 were septicemic plague, and 13 were pneumonic plague.

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