Deadliest Pandemics That Changed the Course of World History
02nd April, 2020
Netflix telegraph.co.uk
The world is currently held captive by the novel COVID-19 and world leaders and citizens are hugely dependent on healthcare professionals to bring some respite. Though the death toll keeps increasing every minute, there remains some hope that humankind will get through this ordeal as well since there are reports of people recovering from the disease. This isn’t the first time that a pandemic has bought everything to a standstill or wreaked havoc on a country’s flourishing economy. The world has witnessed several pandemics, which claimed billions of lives and reminded the world of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory. History is proof that we have seen the worst pandemics, lost millions of people, but eventually, bounced back. In bleak times like these, let’s revisit the pandemics that ravaged the world, but set the world straight about the frailty and strength of human life.
The Black Death (1350) america.aljazeera.com
01
The Black Death (1350)
“The Black Death,” a pandemic of bubonic plague that affected Asia and Europe in the mid-1300s, wiped out more than one-third of Europe’s population! The plague entered Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea arrived at the Sicilian port of Messina. People were left aghast by what they saw—most sailors aboard were dead, and those who survived were gravely ill and covered with black boils that oozed blood and pus! They tried to send these “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late. The disease was so terrifying and widespread that those who went to bed at night and were perfectly healthy were dead by dawn.
War and Plague medium.com
02
War and Plague
People often referred to Black Death as God’s wrath, and there were several crude “remedies” to treat it, such as bloodletting and boil-lancing. Today, scientists attribute this plague to a bacillus called “Yersinia pestis” which travels from person to person pneumatically, or through bites of infected fleas and rats. Due to the plague, England and France’s forces were so depleted that they called a truce to their war. Moreover, the British feudal system collapsed as the plague changed economic circumstances and demographics. In Greenland, the Vikings lost their strength to battle against the native population and this halted their plan to explore North America.
The Great Plague of London (1665) en.wikipedia.org
03
The Great Plague of London (1665)
Even after the devastating Black Death, the living conditions did not improve. The population had grown, and efforts were barely taken to improve the standards of hygiene or health. Household garbage, carcasses, and sewage were thrown into the streets and nearby streams, and this combined with the deteriorating living conditions turned London into a site of a mass grave. The Great Plague of London was believed to be airborne and people including children smoked tobacco to keep the pestilence away. Those who were infected were confined to their homes marked with a red cross on the door, relatives of the deceased were not allowed to attend funerals for the fear of contracting the infection.
The Great Fire of London vs. The Great Plague of London telegraph.co.uk
04
The Great Fire of London vs. The Great Plague of London
The Great Plague of London was the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in Great Britain. The plague ravaged the country for years to come and the last recorded death came out in 1679! The urban areas were more affected than the rural ones. Moreover, the population went down from 5.25 million in 1650 to 4.9 million in 1680! If this wasn’t enough, other diseases like smallpox too added to increasing mortality rate. The people attributed the ending of the plague to the “Great Fire of London” that apparently got rid of the infected organisms. After this disaster, London had developed a great sense of community and worked towards creating a healthier living environment.
The First Cholera Pandemic (1817) gettyimages.ca
05
The First Cholera Pandemic (1817)
The first Cholera pandemic, also known as the first Asiatic Cholera Pandemic or Asiatic Cholera, started near the city of Calcutta. What began as an endemic in the lower Ganges River, spread during the festivities as the pilgrims would contract this disease there and carried it back to other parts of India. Cholera spread throughout Southeast Asia to the Middle East, Eastern Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea before it subsided. This was the first Cholera pandemic that spread over an unprecedented range of territory and affected almost every country in Asia.
No Love in the Time of Cholera Pandemic pbslearningmedia.org
06
No Love in the Time of Cholera Pandemic
The First Cholera Pandemic had wiped out a significant chunk of the population before it receded. By then, it was common knowledge that unhygienic conditions were the root cause of the disease. Unfortunately, nothing changed much, and the world witnessed subsequent cholera pandemics in years to come.
The Third Plague Pandemic (1855) en.wikipedia.org
07
The Third Plague Pandemic (1855)
The third and the last plague pandemic was a major bubonic plague pandemic that originated in Yunnan, China in 1855. The plague then spread to colonial India and led to more than 12 million deaths in both countries. In fact, the pandemic which began in 1855 was considered active until 1960! And, that’s when the worldwide casualties dropped to 200 per year. On investigating the situation, it was revealed that the pandemic was primarily bubonic and was carried around the world through ocean-going trade, and spread further through infected people, rats, and cargos that harbored fleas.
The Plague that plagued colonizers en.wikipedia.org
08
The Plague that plagued colonizers
The Third Plague Pandemic started in China and moved to India and Hong Kong, and surprisingly India was more affected. In the initial stages, the plague was spread by fleas during a mining boom in Yunnan, and is considered to play a vital role in the Panthay rebellion and the Taiping rebellion. India was colonized by the British during the Plague and their harsh repressive policies sparked a revolt against the colonizers. In a way, the Plague bought various unexpected socio-economic and political changes.
Russian Flu (1889) history.com
09
Russian Flu (1889)
The Russian Flu of 1889 was a deadly influenza pandemic that killed about 1 million people worldwide. Let’s just acknowledge that modernization does bring destruction in its wake; the modern transport infrastructure aided the spread of the 1889 influenza which was first recorded in Saint Petersburg in December 1889. Within the next four months, it spread throughout the northern hemisphere.
The devastation that ensued whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com
10
The devastation that ensued
The influenza flu that began in Saint Petersburg traveled to Moscow, and from there, it managed to reach Finland and then Poland. From there, the flu got transmitted to the rest of Europe. By the next year, it had crossed the ocean into North America and Africa. The number of people who died the next year was 1890,360,000!
Spanish Flu (1918) bbc.com
11
Spanish Flu (1918)
The Spanish Flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, affected about 500 million people across the globe, and the death toll is estimated to be somewhere between 17 million to 50 million, or possibly as high as 100 million! This makes this unusually deadly influenza one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. Typically, influenza outbreaks affect the really young and the very old, and the survival rate for middle-aged people was fairly better. However, the Spanish Flu resulted in the death of numerous young adults and this left the scientists baffled.
The Deadly Second Wave and the long-term effects theconversation.com
12
The Deadly Second Wave and the long-term effects
If this devastation wasn’t enough, the second wave of the pandemic was much deadlier. The first wave resembled typical flu epidemics and healthier people recovered easily. However, the second wave that began in France, Sierra Leone, and the United States were much deadlier. The severity of the flu was increased manifold by the circumstances of the First World War. The second wave of the Spanish Flu stopped as abruptly as it began but left the communities across the devastated in its wake. The pandemic resulted in reduced educational attainment, increased rates of physical disability in the general population, lower socioeconomic status, and lower income.
Asian Flu (1957) weather.com
13
Asian Flu (1957)
The Asian Flu pandemic of 1957 was another outbreak of Influenza which was first identified in February 1957 in East Asia. This pandemic spread across the world in no time and became the second major influenza pandemic to occur in the 20th century. The Asian Flu wiped out an estimated one to two million people worldwide and is somewhat less severe than the earlier influenza pandemics.
The Asian Flu spread 247tempo.com
14
The Asian Flu spread
The virus was identified as Influenza A subtype H2N2, and research revealed that the virus was a reassortant strain that had its origins in strains of avian influenza and human influenza virus. When it first appeared in 1957, the virus spread throughout China and its surrounding regions. By midsummer, the virus reached the United States. Though the infection didn’t affect a lot of people in the initial stages, numerous cases affecting young children, the elderly, and pregnant women were reported. The virus also spread to the United Kingdom and claimed 3,550 lives.
HIV/AIDS (1981) david-campbell.org
15
HIV/AIDS (1981)
The first cases of HIV/AIDS surfaced in 1981, and to date, 25 million people worldwide have died from the illness. Moreover, there are 33 million people across the globe who are still living with HIV. There have been several speculations about the HIV virus, and the closest we have to is that humans contracted this virus by hunting certain species of chimpanzees that had this virus. In 1981, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had reported five previously healthy homosexual men who were infected with a rare yeast-fungus called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), which compromised their immune system. By the end of the year, 270 cases were reported and 121 of them died. In 1982, the CDC identified the disease as AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and defined it as “a disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known cause for diminished resistance to that disease.
HIV/AIDS pandemic starts coming under control natap.org
16
HIV/AIDS pandemic starts coming under control
Though the condition first surfaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and killed 36 million people since 1981, there has been progress in treating such cases. As awareness grew, more treatment methods and centers for HIV positive people became available, those who suffered from the condition could manage to live normal lives. The HIV/AIDS pandemic which began in 1981 saw a steep decline in the number of deaths as the count dropped from 2.2 million to 1.6 million during 2005-2012.
SARS (2003) history.com
17
SARS (2003)
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first identified in 2003 and was believed to have started with bats, which then spread to cats, and was later transmitted to humans in China. SARS spread from China to 26 other countries and infected 8,096 people and 774 deaths were reported. The condition is characterized by respiratory problems, fever, dry cough, headaches, and body aches. The disease was transmitted from one person to another through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes.
SARS was a warning buzzfeed.com
18
SARS was a warning
As SARS spreads through contact with the infected person, quarantine was imposed and it proved quite effective. The virus was contained and didn’t reappear. In the midst of all this chaos, China was criticized for trying to suppress the news of the virus when the outbreak began. SARS proved to be the much-needed wake-up call for the health authorities around the world to improve their outbreak responses. The lessons learned from SARS were used to keep diseases like H1N1, Ebola, and Zika under control.
COVID-19 (2019) dictionary.com
19
COVID-19 (2019)
The world is currently battling a pandemic that is more severe and deadly than what it has ever witnessed before. The ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2). The outbreak can be traced back to Wuhan, Hubei, in China in December 2019, and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. Just like SARS, COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets that are produced when one coughs or sneezes but can also spread when one touches a contaminated surface and touches their face. The Chinese government tried to suppress the news of the virus, and this set back preventive efforts. The world became aware of the virus when Dr. Li Wenliang defied the government orders and released the information to other doctors. He was charged with a crime by the Chinese government and died a month later from COVID-19.
COVID-19 Containment Efforts xinhuanet.com
20
COVID-19 Containment Efforts
Though COVID-19 originated from China, Italy is the worst-hit! The count of people getting infected is on the rise every minute, and countries across the globe are taking stringent measures to keep the people safe and are in a race against time to find a cure for the same. The condition seems to take a huge toll on the elderly population and those with underlying medical conditions such as respiratory issues, diabetes, hypertension, and other serious health issues. The outbreak has triggered panic buying with people stacking up toilet paper rolls, groceries, canned food, and masks, which are mostly needed by health professionals taking care of the infected people. The governments of the affected countries are calling for quarantines, curfews, ban on traveling, and have asked citizens to seek information from reliable sources. Clinical trials are being conducted for developing a vaccine for COVID-19 and in the latest news, 4500 retired health professionals have decided to come out of retirement to lend a helping hand to the ones who are working tirelessly to keep the condition contained.