Science » Technologies and discoveries
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Plague and flu change history of the world

The history of humanity is inseparable from the history of epidemics

Specialists distinguish outbursts of serious infectious diseases into pandemics and epidemics. Millions of people may die all over the world as a result of a pandemic, whereas an epidemic is of a smaller scale.

Several large-scale pandemics have been registered in the history of the human civilization. The majority of them were of zoonotic character, when people caught diseases from animals. Smallpox, diphtheria, flu and TB are the diseases that carry a global danger.

A large number of people may die from illnesses, which are usually not referred to as life-threatening. Flu is the brightest example: the mutating ability of the flu virus turns the disease into a more dangerous form every 40 years. The whole world was grieving in 1918, when it was struck with the Spanish flu virus. This epidemic can be categorized as one of the first epidemics of the globalization epoch. The epidemic started prior to the end of WWI. Wartime conditions were perfect for the fast distribution of the virus. Millions of people were suffering from the lack of water and healthy food, soldiers were physically exhausted and the weather was cold and windy. It took the virus mere weeks to strike Germany, France, Italy and other countries of Central Europe. When the war was over, soldiers took the virus to America, Africa, Australia and Asia, as they were returning to their homes. Spanish flu killed about 17 million people in India and 200 thousand in England. Every fourth American had the virus during the epidemic, up to 675,000 of them died. The average life span in the States dropped from 56 to 39 years as a result.

The history of humanity is inseparable from the history of epidemics. It is generally believed that the smallpox epidemic, which broke out in elite units of the Persian army, allowed Greece to keep its independence and create glorious culture. An identified disease killed a quarter of Athens population in the year 430 B.C. The tragedy made Athens lose its dominating positions in Ancient Greece for a certain period of time. An outburst of Antonine Plague, most likely smallpox, occurred in 165-180: about five million people were killed with the disease. More than 5,000 people were dying in Rome daily during a second outburst of the disease in 255-266. As a result, the Roman Empire had to suspend its aggressive crusades.

It is an open secret that plague exerted an intense influence on the history of mankind. The first epidemic known as Plague of Justinian took place in Byzantium in the VI century. Plague killed about 100 million people in 50 years. Having started in Egypt, the epidemic reached Constantinople, where it started killing 10,000 on a daily basis. Several European regions, Italy for example, became depopulated.

Bubonic plague, or black death hit the world in the XIV century – it destroyed about one-third of the Asian and a half of the European population. The epidemic caused several well-known rebellions in Great Britain, France, Italy and so on. When the epidemic was over, the development of the civilization took a different turn. Employees started receiving higher wages because of the considerable reduction of the labor force, the role of cities increased a lot and the development of bourgeoisie commenced. Furthermore, considerable progress was achieved in the field of medicine and hygiene.

The third epidemic of plague broke out at the end of the XIX century. Rats were spreading the disease very fast as they were traveling from one sea port to another. The third epidemic of plague was over with a scientific breakthrough. Scientists discovered the pathogenic organism of the disease in 1894.

Epidemics affected people's religious preferences too. When plague was raging on Cyprus in 250-271, a lot of local population converted to Christianity. The smallpox epidemic in Japan (VIII-IX centuries) eventually resulted in the triumph of Buddhism. Xenophobia and brutality, however, were much more common during epidemic years. Infidels or people of other nationalities (Jews and Gypsies in Europe) were usually declared “evil-doers” at this point. It was originally believed that AIDS, for example, was a solely homosexual disease, which was not dangerous to heterosexual individuals. The first title that was given to the greatest tragedy of the XX century was: Gay Related Immune Deficiency.

The first epidemic, which can be considered as a side effect of great geographical discoveries, was registered at the end of the XV century. The syphilis pathogen found itself in Europe after the discovery of America. Syphilis became the most horrible sexually transmitted disease. Syphilis raised the authority of religion in the society: the disease was considered a punishment for sinners.

A large-scale epidemic of cholera took place in the XVIII century. The XIX century was marked with a horrible yellow fever epidemic. The epidemic of poliomyelitis struck the world in 1916. The start of the Ebola Fever epidemic was registered in the 1970s – the horrible disease was killing 90 percent of the infected people. The recent SARS epidemic in 2003 resulted in an economic setback in Asian countries and caused a considerable damage to the tourist industry.

Experts of the World Health Organization believe that outbursts of such diseases as Ebola and Lassa fevers, as well as the Magdeburg virus, may pose a big threat to humanity in the future. Now-defunct illnesses, such as smallpox, may return to the world of humans again too.

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