Due to the making and growth of the human civilizations, infectious diseases and their spreads became more severe. With large numbers of people living close to each other, to animals including overseas trading routes systems, infectious diseases could spread far and wide causing what we now know as “Pandemics”.
Below are five of historical pandemics that caused suffering and that even wiped out parts of human civilizations across the globe.
Plaque Of Justinian leaving no one alive;
Three of the deadly past pandemics, including this one was caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. This particular plaque arrived in Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, in 541 CE. It spread from Egypt through the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt was a conquered land that payed tribute to Emperor Justinian in grain. Fleas that carried the plaque had been in contact with black rats that fed on the grains. Thereon, it spread from Constantinople across Europe, Asia, North Africa and Arabia killing approximately 30-50 million people which was about half the world’s population back then. A guess is that some people in that pandemic were immune and thus survived the plaque.
The Black Death & The Idea Of Quarantine;
The same plaque caused by Yersinia pestis returned 800 years later hitting Europe in 1347 and killed approximately 200 million people in just four years. A method was introduced by the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa, which was to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until it could be proven that they were not sick. At first the sailors had to stay on their ships for 30 days, which got the name Trentino. But later it got extended to 40 days (or a Quarantine), which is the origin of the word quarantine and the start of its practice in the Western world.
The Great Plaque Of London;
London was hit by the Black Death approximately every 20 years between 1348-1665. With each outbreak, 20% of the men, women and children living in the British capital were killed. England introduced the law to separate the sick from the healthy by the early 1500’s. Every sick persons home was marked with a bale of hay strung to a pole outside of their doors. If a family member was infected, one had to carry a white pole in public. Cats and dogs were massacred, believed to carry the disease. The last outbreak by 1665, 100 000 people died in just seven months within London. The sick were forced to stay at home with red crosses on their dots as well as the line, “Lord have mercy upon us”.
Smallpox marked all the infected with pockmarked scars and three out of ten of them died. This virus arrived to the New World by the first European explorers in the 15th century. Quickly, the virus turned into an endemic to Europe, Arabia and Asia for centuries. The worst impact was in USA and Mexico. 90-95% of the American population got wiped out and the Mexican population went from 11 million to 1 million. It was the 18th century the smallpox became the first virus epidemic to be ended by a vaccine discovered by Edward Jenner. He noticed the cows infected by a milder variant of the smallpox was immune. Thus he injected his Gardner’s 9 year old son with cowpox and then exposed him to smallpox which expressed no ill effects. The inhalation of the smallpox was a problem
Centuries later, smallpox became the first virus epidemic to be ended by a vaccine. In the late 18th-century, a British doctor named Edward Jenner discovered that milkmaids infected with a milder virus called cowpox seemed immune to smallpox. Jenner famously inoculated his gardener’s 9-year-old son with cowpox and then exposed him to the smallpox virus with no ill effect. However, the inhalation of the smallpox remained an issue until 1980 when WHO announced that smallpox was fully eradicated around the globe.
Early to mid-19th century, Cholera killed thousands of people in England. It was first believed that the disease was airborne until British doctor John Snow suspected that the spread came from the water. He came to this conclusion by creating a geographical chart of cholera deaths over 10 days and found a significant group of 500 deaths near the Broad Street pump, a well for drinking water. The pump was removed and over time the death rate decreased and an increased amount of effort was put into protect drinking water from contamination and sanitization within the city. Cholera is not fully eradicated with third world countries still suffering from it due to the lack of clean water and sanitization.
Cover Image Credit