PANDEMICS THAT CHANGED HISTORY
by Annie Saxena on Feb 09, 2023
A pandemic is a disastrous disease that spreads across nations creating a global emergency and danger for the human race. A global pandemic can have major economic and social effects. Pandemics can cause the entire world to go on a lockdown to protect the human race causing the economy of major nations as well as developing nations to fall and cause panic. The lockdown also requires humans to stay out of contact and isolate themselves causing a sense of loneliness and depression. The world essentially pauses regular lifestyle and adopts a more quiet and simple way of living. Throughout history as human civilizations rose, the economy blossomed and developed, although the occurrence of pandemics struck them down. In the realm of infectious diseases, a pandemic is the most dire situation fathomable. Communicable diseases have existed since man was a hunter and gatherer, but with civilization developing and people living in close quarters, pandemics became a reality.
The pandemics mentioned below, changed the course of history and our future.
430 BC: Athens Pandemic
History’s earliest recorded pandemic happened during the Peloponnesian War. After the disease passed through Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, it crossed the Athenian walls as the Spartans laid siege. As much as two-thirds of the population died.
The symptoms included fever, thirst, bloody throat and tongue, red skin and lesions. The disease, suspected to have been typhoid fever, weakened the Athenians significantly and was a significant factor in their defeat by the Spartans.
11th Century: Leprosy
Though it was an ancient illness, Leprosy became a pandemic in the middle ages, which resulted in numerous hospitals being built just for the illness. A slow-developing bacterial disease that causes sores and deformities, leprosy was believed to be a punishment from God that ran in families. This belief led to moral judgments and ostracization of victims. Now known as Hansen’s disease, it still afflicts tens of thousands of people a year and can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics.
1350: The Black Death
By the end of this pandemic, over one third of the world’s population was dead. Believed to have been started in Asia, it moved to the western world through traders and merchants. Entering through Sicily in 1347 A.D. when plague sufferers arrived in the port of Messina, it spread throughout Europe rapidly. Dead bodies became so prevalent that many remained rotting on the ground and created a constant stench in cities.
England and France were so incapacitated by the plague that the countries called a truce to their war. The British feudal system collapsed when the plague changed economic circumstances and demographics for the foreseeable future.
1492: The Colombian Exchange
The arrival of the Spanish to the Americas resulted in them bringing diseases such as malaria, smallpox and the plague, which they passed on to the native tribal population. With no previous exposure, these diseases devastated indigenous people, with as many as 90 percent dying throughout the north and south continents.
1665: The Great Plague Of London
In another devastating appearance, the bubonic plague led to the deaths of 20 percent of London’s population. As human death tolls mounted and mass graves appeared, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs were slaughtered as the possible cause and the disease spread through ports along the Thames. The worst of the outbreak tapered off in the fall of 1666, around the same time as another The Great Fire Of London which in turn was considered a conspiracy by the nobility because the fire ravaged the poor parts of the city and was considered a reason the plague ended.
1817: The First Cholera Pandemic
The first of many cholera pandemics over the next 150 years initially originated in Russia where over a million perished. Spreading through water and food, it was brought by British soldiers to India where even more suffered. A vaccine was finally made in 1885 but the pandemic kept on reappearing.
1855: The Eastern Plague
Starting in China and moving to India, this plague claimed 15 million lives. India faced the most casualties and the country’s British rulers at the time did little to help the suffering population instead using it as an excuse to formulate even more repressive policies against the Indians. The plague thrived till the 1960’s in South Asia until it subsided.
1918: Spanish Flu
The avian-borne flu that resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide, the 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world. At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. Wire service reports of a flu outbreak in Madrid led to the pandemic being called the “Spanish flu.”By autumn of 1918, hundreds of thousands of Americans died and body storage scarcity hit crisis level. But the flu threat disappeared in the summer of 1919 when most of the infected had either developed immunities or died.
Believed to have originated in Africa, AIDS first came to America in 1981. It was referred as GRID (gay related immuno deficieny) at the time as it affected the gay population mostly. This in turn led to a lot of stigma and bigotry against them. We now know it is spread through infected needles, blood transfusions and unprotected sex. AIDS destroys the body’s ability to fight any diseases rendering it with no immunity. Treatments have been developed to slow the progress of the disease, but 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery, and a cure is yet to be found.
First identified in 2003 after several months of cases, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is believed to have possibly started with bats, spread to cats and then to humans in China, followed by 26 other countries, infecting 8,096 people, with 774 deaths.Quarantine efforts proved effective and the virus was contained and hasn’t reappeared since. China was criticized for trying to suppress information about the virus at the beginning of the outbreak. SARS was seen by global health professionals as a wake-up call to improve outbreak responses, and lessons from the pandemic were used to keep diseases like H1N1, Ebola and Zika under control.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 virus was officially a pandemic after barreling through 114 countries in three months and infecting over 118,000 people. And the spread wasn’t anywhere near finished.
COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus, the family of viruses that includes the common flu and SARS. Symptoms include respiratory problems, fever and cough, and can lead to pneumonia and death. Like SARS, it’s spread through droplets from sneezes.
The first reported case in China appeared November 17, 2019, in the Hubei Province, but went unrecognized. Eight more cases appeared in December with researchers pointing to an unknown virus.
Many learned about COVID-19-19 when ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang defied government orders and released safety information to other doctors. The following day, China informed WHO and charged Li with a crime. Li died from COVID-19 just over a month later.
Without a vaccine available, the virus spread beyond Chinese borders and by mid-March, it has spread globally to more than 163 countries.
While we are in the midst of battling a pandemic, we must look to history for lessons from the past. Quaranting, self isolation and social distancing have proven to be effective since centuries. We will be able to come through this stronger and together if we understand the dire need to stay home and stay safe. Coronavirus will not come into our homes unless we go out and get it in.