What We Can Learn from Historical Pandemics?

What We Can Learn from Historical Pandemics?

It’s natural to be fearful when it comes to the possibility of a world-spread contagion. Afterall, any stories about pestilence are full of suffering and death. Perhaps the most popular pandemic is one learned in the history books. The bubonic plague, or the Black Death, ravaged Europe and Asia and it took over 200 years for Europe to get its population back to where it was before the disease.

It is important to learn from history, and some things we can glean from past pandemic events help us with what we may be facing in the near future. The great plague that occurred in Athens in 430 B.C., and which was described by Thucydides, was probably caused by a pandemic influenza virus. In more recent history, there was the cholera epidemic that occurred during the period of 1899–1923, the Asian flu that occurred in 1957 and killed 2 million people, as well as the 1968 Hong Kong flu that killed over a million people.

Some other notable pandemics were:

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Bubonic Plague:

Peaking in the mid 1300s, the Black Death or bubonic plague likely occurred from the disease being transmitted from rodents to humans by the bite of infected fleas. The plague is believed to have started in China along the trade routes to the West. Although it was relatively well contained in the Isles, it became an even greater threat to the world when the virus became airborne and quickly spread from human to human. Occurring throughout Eurasia, it is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe’s population or roughly 75–200 million people.

One of the possible theories regarding what ended the bubonic plague is that it was better personal hygiene practices, cremations rather than burials, and the implementation of quarantines. Somehow, those who were uninfected quickly learned to remain in their homes and only leave when absolutely necessary. Moreover, many people left population-dense areas to ride out the bubonic plague in the country.

The Spanish Flu:

One of the more deadly pandemics on record occurred 100 years ago. The Spanish Flu of 1918 caused a global pandemic that was so devastating that it infected an estimated one-third of the planet’s population and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, and the average life expectancy was reduced by 13 years.

In the first wave of this pandemic, the new strain of an influenza virus hit military camps in Europe during World War I. Both sides were affected by this virus, but that was only the beginning. The first wave was mild in comparison to when the second wave hit. Months later, the bigger, much deadlier second wave hit and swept across the globe.

Incidentally, this was the last time the US used enforced large-scale isolation and quarantine efforts.

This naturally occurring pandemic was during a time when global travel was not readily available, accessible highways and/or transportation systems were at a minimum, and there were not as many mega-cities. In the case of the Spanish Flu, there were three pandemic waves, the second being the most fatal.

The Spanish flu hit different age groups, displaying a socalled “W-trend”, with infections typically peaking in children and the elderly, with an intermediate spike in healthy young adults. In these last cases, lack of pre-existing virus-specific and/or cross-reactive antibodies and cellular immunity probably contributed to the high attack rate and rapid spread of the 1918 H1N1 virus, and to that “cytokine storm” which ultimately destroyed the lungs.

The Swine Flu:

In the spring of 2009, a novel influenza A (H1N1) virus emerged. Dubbed “The Swine Flu” because in the past, the people who caught it had direct contact with pigs.

Swine Flu was first detected in the US and spread quickly across the country and the world. Between April 12, 2009 and April 10, 2010, there were 60.8 million cases reported, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths due to the virus. The CDC estimates 575,400 people died worldwide.

Though the 2009 flu pandemic primarily affected children and young and middle-aged adults, the impact of the (H1N1) pdm09 virus on the global population during the first year was less severe than that of previous pandemics. It has now become a regular part of influenza planning and circulates seasonally in the US, still causing significant illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.

What We Can Learn from Historical Pandemics

What We Can Learn from Historical Pandemics

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