The Plague

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"You have to admire its simplicity. It's one billionth our size, and it's beating us."
Sam Daniels, Outbreak

Basically, a pandemic disease. The Plague stories come in several different types. In the first, the protagonists are usually trying to find a cure or preventing it from spreading further. The second is where The Plague is the cause of an After the End plot. Either the disease happened before the beginning of the story or the story begins with The End of the World as We Know It. In both cases the heroes are usually just naturally immune and are unable to stop The Plague killing everyone who isn't.

Sometimes, The Plague overlaps with The Virus and turns its victims into horrible degenerate mutants. It's also a common cause of the Zombie Apocalypse, if the story wants to empty the world and then fill it with monsters.

For artificially and magically created diseases, see Synthetic Plague and Mystical Plague respectively. For a being whose main ability is to spread similar diseases, see Plaguemaster. Compare Depopulation Bomb. The Black Death is a particularly famous case—so much so that if someone just says "the plague" without elaboration, they're almost certainly talking about The Black Death or the disease that caused it.

Examples of The Plague include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Vul Isen in Star Wars Legacy creates one to be unleashed against the galaxy
  • Warhol Fever from The Authority. Named because at its peak, gives the victim 15 minutes of feral superpowers and berserk rage before they explode and spread the infection even more.
  • The Morbus Gravis from Italian comic book Druuna is the horrible degenerate mutant version.
  • Hronmeer's Curse, AKA the reason the Martian Manhunter is the Last of His Kind.
  • The Ebola Gulf-A from Batman Contagion, originally unleashed in Gotham City by the Saint Duma's Order but later revealed to have been created by Ra's al Ghul
  • The Legacy Virus killed off a few Mutants.
  • In Nth Man the Ultimate Ninja, after the Soviets and the United States launch biological warheads at each other, a powerful Reality Warper tries to neutralize them. Instead, he turns the lethal virus into a nonlethal mutagen that turns infected humans into disfigured "moots" with a taste for flesh.
  • One of the members of the Green Lantern Corps is actually a sentient smallpox virus named Leezle Pon, who stays out of meetings because it would infect the other Green Lanterns. The Sinestro Corps, on the other hand, has its own sentient virus known as Despotellis, who is responsible for killing Kyle Rayner's mother.


  • The Omega virus from The Omega Man. It kills most of the human race, and turns most of the rest into zombie vampires.
  • The virus from 12 Monkeys, which is virulent enough to force the remaining survivors underground.
  • The Reaper Virus from Doomsday.
  • The Ebola-like Motaba virus from Outbreak.
  • The Rage virus turns people into zombies Infected in 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later.
  • The Me1 virus from Contagion.
  • While Mimic is about Giant Mutant Bugs, it's a child-killing Plague which prompts the bugs' creation in the first place. (And makes the first ten minutes of the movie scarier and more unsettling than the rest put together.)
  • In Cabin Fever, the flesh-eating disease will eventually reach pandemic levels.
  • Carriers
  • In L: Change the World, a terrorist group create a virus that is a mix of ebola and influenza, highly contagious, and quick to mutate. Naturally finding a cure before it wipes everybody out is the main plot of the movie.
  • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a virus created to combat Alzheimer's mutated to be fatal to humans, but give apes sentience.


  • Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders. However, the protagonist wasn't trying to find a cure (it was the Black Death), rather, her village was purposely isolating itself in order to stop the plague from spreading more than it had to. Something of a Heroic Sacrifice... Most of them died.
  • The Plague, a novel by Albert Camus, is about a plague outbreak of the Algerian city of Oran.
  • The descolada in Orson Scott Card's Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide. Interesting in that while it's fatal—and nastily so—to Earth life, it is absolutely vital to the ecosystem of Lusitania, necessitating an approach to the disease that didn't eradicate the pathogen entirely.
  • The eponymous Andromeda Strain from Michael Crichton's novel.
  • The White Plague by Frank Herbert (only fatal to women).
  • Captain Trips in Stephen King's The Stand.
    • Also featured in King's early short story "Night Surf" (appears in the collection Night Shift).
  • The Scarlet Plague by Jack London.
  • Alistair MacLean's The Satan Bug, if it had gotten loose.
  • In Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, a disease turns most of humanity into zombie vampires. Three times adapted for the movies.
  • Anne McCaffrey has used this more than once.
    • In the short story "The Ship Who... Mourned", a plague has wiped out most of a planet's population. The handful of survivors of this disease are either immune or are left paralyzed. Helva supports Theoda in an attempt to demonstrate that physiotherapy may be effective for the latter.
    • In the Dragonriders of Pern books Moreta and Nerilka's Story, a plague ravages Pern.
      • The Thread itself arguably counts as a plague.
  • The disease that killed all the adults in O.T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City.
  • Andre Norton has used this.
    • Subverted in Android at Arms: The "epidemic" which led to the planet being quarantined - and thus cut off from any possibility of further outside interference in an ongoing civil war - was actually due to one of the rebel leaders' poisoning of the water supply of the main mercenary outpost.
    • Breed to Come: The story opens After the End; the plague that wiped out the humans (called the Demons in-story) led to the development of intelligence in several other species, including that of the protagonist.
    • Dark Piper: The planet Beltane, a lightly settled planet dedicated to biological research, developed some biological weapons, as some would-be invaders learn to their cost.
    • Ordeal in Otherwhere: An epidemic has decimated the Cult Colony on Demeter, leaving few male survivors. The protagonist, the now-orphaned daughter of the colony's education officer, is on the run as the story opens, since the survivors have become viciously xenophobic and she is an outsider.
    • The novella and short story "Outside": All the adults died years ago.
    • Plague Ship: Fear of this trope means that the titular ship can't seek help through legitimate channels, as they will be destroyed without trial if their status is known.
  • The Red Death in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death", which appears to be a cross between Tuberculosis and the Bubonic plague, although Ebola probably fit the bill too.
  • A mutation of the avian flu [A(H5N1)] that can infect humans steps in for this trope in John Ringo's anviliciously political The Last Centurion.
  • Buliod's disease plays this role in Stationery Voyagers. Although it doesn't kill, it does cause infertility. Especially when Astrabolo wants to unleash this STD on schoolchildren - and then hijack Sex Ed to - you can probably guess what he'll make them do next.
  • The germ-bomb used by the Soviets on the Midlands and spread by wind to cover 2/3's of England and Wales in Breaking Glass, by Brian Morse.
  • In the X Wing Series the Krytos Plague is engineered by Imperial elements to kill only nonhumans. The Imperial throneworld, previously known as Coruscant, is infected with the plague just before the Rebel Alliance takes it, so that not only will nonhuman populations be decimated, but the Alliance will have to spend limited resources treating the victims, and nonhumans will be bitter at perceived favoritism.
  • Connie Willis's Doomsday Book has two plagues. Influenza ravages Oxford, while a time travelling historian gets stuck in the Black Death.
  • In Hermann Hesse's book Narcissus and Goldmund, while Goldmund is wandering about Europe, the Black Death breaks out, and he meets several characters who lives have been transformed by the plague, Robert and Rebecca, to name a few.
  • Subverted by Harry Turtledove in his short story Nasty, Brutish And..., part of a wider sci-fi universe. The Foitani, a race of galactic conquerors, find out which planets are likely to later produce potential enemies and hit them with an engineered virus that will constantly mutate to ensure their life forms will never be free of it. However, it turns out that Earth was one of these planets, and the virus turns out to be...the common cold.
  • Possibly the original world-killing-disease novel is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart from 1949, where humanity is cut down by a plague once mentioned as a kind of "super-measles".
  • The Fourth Empire from Empire From the Ashes—a huge, incredibly-advanced, galactic civilization—was completely annihilated (only Dahak's crew and an isolated planet (Pardal) in the third book were shown to have survived) by the accidental release of an experimental bio-weapon. Said weapon halted the critical chemical reactions of any life it encountered, rapidly evolved, had a very long dormancy period, and could survive for centuries outside of a host. Holy shit.
  • In a nonlethal variant, H. G. Wells' "The Country of the Blind" is set in an isolated Andean community where a disease that targets the eyes had blinded the entire population long ago.
  • In the Farsala Trilogy, a "swamp fever" that regularly decimates the Kadeshi population is mentioned. Kavi and Soraya use it to their advantage when they are captured- they promise that, if they are released, they will convince the Suud to find a cure.
  • The Changeling Plague features the titular disease.
  • The Tunnels series has Dominion, a strain of influenza genetically engineered by the Styx into a super-plague that will kill everyone on the planet's surface, allowing those living Beneath the Earth to rise up and take their place.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, a plague is used to eliminate a king and his immediate heirs, to allow his young brother Tarascus to ascend the throne. Since the plague stops with the king's death, Tarascus is acclaimed as the chosen of the gods.
  • In Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, the Raison Strain.
  • The Ur Example might be Mary Shelley's The Last Man from 1826.
  • Colas Breugnon has a plague halfway through the book. The protagonist, always carefree, accidentally catches it and nearly dies, but still keeps his cool—except for when his grand-daughter nearly dies, and when his old house and everything inside is burned down by other townspeople for fear of plague.
  • The Roman Mysteries features an historic pandemic that starts at the end of The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina and becomes on of the main plot points of The Enemies of Jupiter.
  • The Sickenesse in Septimus Heap is a plague that was brought forward by Ghost Queen Etheldredda's pet animal the Aie-Aie and plays a background role in Physik.
  • There's two major examples in the Warrior Cats series: greencough, a deadly, contagious pneumonia-like sickness; and an unnamed sickness that crops up in ShadowClan from them eating rats (later referred to as ShadowClan's Great Sickness): it only comes once in a great while and wipes out a good chunk of the Clan, and it doesn't have a cure until Cinderpelt discovers one.
  • The fourth in the Circle of Magic series, "Briar's Book"/"The Healing in the Vine" deals with a plague sweeping through the city, and the main characters' work to heal the sick, discover its origin, and try to find a cure.

Live Action TV

  • The Bliss Virus in the Doctor Who episode "Gridlock".
    • "The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances" has an interesting version: "physical injuries as plague," as Dr. Constantine puts it.
  • In the Torchwood episode "End of Days", it was feared that people coming from other centuries would spread diseases for which the modern population had no immunity. Interestingly enough, although there were cases, the actual bubonic plague was the least of their concerns.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • The disease that killed all the adults in "Miri".
    • Rigelian Fever in "Requiem for Methuselah".
    • The disease from "The Naked Time" (and its sequel "The Naked Now") is apparently non-fatal, but is highly contagious and, in both episodes, adversely affects the crew in the midst of a disaster which could destroy the ship.
    • The macrovirus in the Voyager episode Macrocosm. Especially nightmarish because of the monsters that exist solely as vectors, and are produced by the comatose sufferers.
      • Also "The Phage," an entire alien species struck with a plague, and is forced to steal body-parts from other species—strangely while leaving them alive, even after stealing vital organs.
    • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Dominion infected an entire planet which resisted them with a plague called "The Quickening" (after the final deadly stage of infection). Everyone is born with it, most die in childhood, but enough people survive to adulthood to reproduce and keep their population from entirely dying out even after a few hundred years. It has replaced all other forms of death on their planet and left their society incapable of maintaining their previous level of technology and infrastructure, turning what was once a space-faring civilization into something resembling the Dung Ages. The look on the people's faces when Dr. Bashir discovers a vaccine that will prevent future generations from being infected is something of a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
      • The Federation's "Section 31" also created a plague to kill the Changelings and win the war.
  • Reality show The Colony is about ten contestants trying to build a working, self-sustaining colony after a fictional worldwide viral outbreak kills off the majority of the population.
  • The Tribe, a show based around a world in which a mysterious virus wipes out all adults seemingly overnight, leaving the children and teenagers to fend for themselves.
  • [Series/Earth:FinalConflict\] had some sort of plague on humans that was caused by the Taelons after their arrival on Earth.
  • Heroes had the Shanti Virus.
  • Jeremiah had the Big Death, which was Only Fatal to Adults.
  • Both versions of Survivors deal with the aftermath of such a disease.
  • Babylon 5: The Marcab are wiped out by a long-dormant disease. Individuals refuse to seek treatment because the disease is culturally associated with immorality.
    • Also, the Drakh plague.
  • The plague that almost killed the Ancients in the Stargate universe is an important part of the setting. It wasn't enough to kill them all, but the first time they encountered it they said "screw it, we're out of here".
    • The same or a similar plague was used by the Ori against unbelievers in the Milky Way. It was the first and only time when a weapon of mass destruction was successfully used against Earth in the primary universe.

Tabletop Games

  • In Exalted's backstory, a plague known as the "Great Contagion" wiped out 9/10ths of all life in Creation. The really scary part? No one knows why it didn't finish off the last tenth, which is what it was designed to do.
  • In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Vilani not only find that they cannot cope with Terran diseases but that Terrans can. Some of them surrender just so Terran Medics can arrive faster.
  • The card game Nuclear War features the SuperGerm card, which moves among all of the players and attacks their populations in turn.
    • Actually, that's SuperVirus, from the expansion Nuclear Retaliation. Super Germ just kills 25 million in one shot.
  • The VITAS plague cut back the planet's population by about 1/4, then another 1/10, in the future timeline of the Shadowrun game setting.
  • In Pandemic Legacy [1] you have not only one, but four (or even five with the expansion) plagues.
  • Magic: The Gathering has Phyrexia, which specializes in this. There's even a keyword called infect.

Video Games

  • Gray Death from Deus Ex. Later revealed to be a nano-mechanical virus formed by MJ12 to take control of the world.
  • EINDS from Fear Effect 2.
  • The Romulus virus from Soldier of Fortune 2.
  • The entire plot of the original Neverwinter Nights campaign. It turns out that the plague is magical in nature and designed to harvest life force that gets send to power an Ancient Evil.
  • Corprus and Blight in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.
  • The entire plot of Left 4 Dead revolves around this - the main characters are some of the only people with natural immunity to The Virus that turns everyone else into crazed killing machines. There is no cure - they can only run for their lives.
    • It's worse than that. They're asymptomatic carriers, like Typhoid Mary.
    • And on that note, the T-Virus from Resident Evil.
  • In Pandemic and its sequel, you play as a disease attempting to infect the entire planet. Infamously difficult to get One Hundred Percent Completion on, since Madagascar does not hesitate to close its ports, and it doesn't have an airport or land boundaries with other countries.
  • Persona 3 had the city believe that Apathy Syndrome was caused by a plague.
    • In Persona 4, the fog that envelops Inaba by the end of the year and causes every last (non-named) inhabitant to slowly go insane with nihilism at best, or collapse in inexplicable, incurable illness at worst.
  • In Warcraft III, and again in World of Warcraft in a pre-extension event, you have the plague of undeath, a plague which turn people into undead. The Forsaken also try to make one.
    • The Forsaken are also the result of the Scourge's Plague. As well as the majority of most undead.
  • Pathologic is basically a survival game in an infected town.
  • The Trauma Center series has a man made one in the GUILT and Stigma diseases (Though the latter is due to technology gone wrong) Trauma Team kind of follows in the tradition by having the Rosalia virus, which is comparable to the Ebola virus, only deadlier and with a dose of Ax Crazy. The last arc focuses on a widespread outbreak of the disease.
  • It's small potatoes compared to the rest of the plot, but there's a plague on Omega in Mass Effect 2 which is rapidly lethal towards everyone but vorcha and humans, the latter of which are accused of creating and spreading it. Vorcha are seen as too short-lived and unintelligent to do anything of the sort. Professor Mordin Solus, who develops a cure, believes it was created by the Collectors.
  • Prototype deals with a Synthetic Plague infecting Manhattan and turning everyone in the city into mutated monsters under the control of Elizabeth Greene. It turns out that the protagonist, Alex Mercer, is the result of the original Doctor Alex Mercer's enhancing of the original "Redlight" plague virus into the current "Blacklight" virus, up until the point where he was shot and killed and the virus infected his corpse, resulting in the entity that would become the avatar of the Blacklight virus that thinks it is Alex Mercer.
  • The Plague, referred to by name, is present in both In Famous games, but is a significantly larger threat in the second. It's caused by ray sphere radiation, a contagious plague that's 100% lethal, but conduits are immune to it, choosing to ease nature along and create a world of superhumans or sacrificing yourself and every other superhuman to cure it is the penultimate karmic choice of the game.
  • Sword of the Stars features a number of different bioweapons that ships with Biowar modules can deploy against enemy planets. Allowing a player to kill everyone in the colony with minimal damage to infrastructure and terraforming. A specialty of the Liir.
    • Though the Zuul in the first expansion are both immune to bioweapons and unable to research them.


  • A plague wiped out 90% of all males in the universe of Angels 2200. A plague we find out was created by Earth's central government as a way to pacify the off-world colonies.

Web Original

  • A big part of Lands of Red and Gold concerns the fact that the Alternate History Australian civilisation has its own pandemic diseases which make their way back to the Old World after contact is made in the early 1600s, basically decapitating half the political leadership of Europe among other things.
  • The Chaos Timeline has the Black Death, happening somewhat later and spread through longer time than in our world.

Western Animation

  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, a children's cartoon had an episode that dealt with this very disease.
  • In the Futurama episode "Cold Warriors", the plague is the common cold, which was erradicated in the 25th Century but reintroduced by Fry after a dormant strain of it was reactivated. Now with no vaccine or natural immunity, drastic measures are taken, mainly quarantining the entire island of Manhattan and hurling it into the sun for good measure.

Real Life

Truth in Television far, far more often than we'd like it to be.

  • The Antonine Plague left Rome's legions undermanned, setting up a century of nearly fatal external threats. In addition, the plague may have caused the death of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the "Five Good Emperors".
  • Justinian's Plague, almost certainly the bubonic plague, absolutely devastated the Roman and Persian empires. It was one of the main reasons the intact Eastern Roman Empire wasn't able to reestablish the Western Empire. Later recurrences of the plague were probably one of the reasons Islam spread as far as it did.
  • The Black Death, also bubonic plague, began in China and had spread to Europe by the 1300s, killed a sizable fraction of the Eurasian population: estimates vary wildly, but some place the death rate as high as 60%. Europe's population would not recover for 150 years.
  • The H1N1 flu pandemic of 1918, which may have had an even higher death toll. Modern estimates peg the death toll at 100 million people, or what was at the time five percent of the world population. (By contrast, the death toll for World War I (which was raging at the same time) was "only" about 10-15 million.) Unusually, this strain of flu hit young adults and adults the hardest—children and older people did OK. It's thought that it killed by causing a cytokine storm, a fatal overreaction of the immune system.
    • 91 years later, the H1N1 only did a minor a dent on worldwide death statistics with "barely" 18,000 dead, thanks to 2009's medicine, the swift measures taken worldwide to prevent its spread and the original having been greatly "aided" by the conditions of the war (malnutrition, overcrowding, ect). The memories of 1918, however, were still enough to keep the entire world scared, and indeed many people thought it would be the end of the human race.
    • 1918's H1N1 killed 22% of Fiji within two weeks. One scientist at the time said "If the epidemic continues its mathematical rate of acceleration, civilization could easily disappear from the face of the Earth within a matter of a few more weeks."
  • Nobody knows just what the population of North America was pre-contact, but it was a lot smaller just a few generations later. Some estimates range to up to 90% of the pre-contact population was killed by one or more European germs:
    • Smallpox, brought to Mexico by Spanish conquistadors with tough white cells formed in The Dung Ages, which almost single-handedly wiped out the local, sparkling-clean civilizations.
    • Other European diseases, including some that are generally considered 'childhood diseases' like measles, also contributed to the disaster. It wasn't all smallpox.
    • People like Jared Diamond argue on the supposed cleanliness of the pre-Columbian American civilizations. It was more like the Europeans and Asians had evolved throughout millenia as farmers and animal breeders always in contact with farm animals, from which most bacteria had passed to humans, while the Mesoamerican civilizations did not. It takes a lucky human life to provide immunity to childhood diseases, it takes centuries for evolution even for a simple organism like a bacterium.
  • Speaking of smallpox: while people in the Old World had had millenia to develop resistance to it, and while it was more endemic than pandemic (it existed as a persistent disease in most places rather than appearing in brutal and massive outbreaks), it still wasn't exactly harmless: it is estimated that as much as 500 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century alone.
  • Throughout history, disease epidemics killed far more people than wars ever did. It was a source of horror for people, as a plague could strike without much warning and kill a majority of the people in the village. The phrase "a pox on your house" may seem quaint to us now, but it was essentially wishing that a person and his entire family would be killed by a plague, which was a very real possibility.
    • This is one reason children in Medieval Europe were fostered to other families at an early age: if (say) an epidemic of diphtheria struck your community, you could lose all your children in the space of a few days. Fostering children in another community at least helped to ensure that some of your descendants might outlive you.
  • The Other Wiki has a very nice list of historical plagues.
  • While it hasn't become a plague [yet], scientists have created a strain of the H5N1 bird flu that not only can be transmitted through the air unlike the current "natural" strains, but has the potential to wipe out half of all humanity. What's more, the scientists want the study to be published, and if that happens, it could only be a matter of time before the world is faced with an epidemic unlike any seen before...
  1. where you fight disease, not like in the flash game of the same name, where you are the disease