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May 13, 2020

How humans battled pandemics during these two millenniums


May 13, 2020

LAHORE: Having infected over four million people and caused over 2, 79,000 deaths worldwide till date, the lethal Corona Virus (COVID19) has undoubtedly emerged as a social, economic and ecological catastrophe of massive magnitude with no cure or respite in sight.

The only positive thing caused by this pandemic is perhaps the divine repairing of the badly-torn Ozone Layer because production of lesser stuff globally has used lesser energy. A mammoth decrease in burning of fuels has resulted due to a steep plunge on air, sea and land transport, and the closure of millions of industries has led to emission of fewer greenhouse gases— and hence a much healthier and Oxygen-rich environment to breathe.

All these factors have together brought about this dream climatic change, effects of which are already visible if we look at the much clearer blue skies and much cleaner water bodies etc. For the time being, the wheel of life has visibly slowed down, if not halted completely!

But at the same time, quarantines and lockdowns have posed a huge challenge to the governments in over 200 countries to extend support to dozens of millions of families those who are literally languishing in their homes owing to illnesses, fear of catching the infection or unemployment.

In other words, regimes across the globe are pondering over ways to devise system that could scale down business and industrial activities in a way that they do not cause a loss of livelihood, especially for those living at or below the poverty line.

With global supply chains and productivity already hampered by the deadly Corona, billions of humans are today battling a loss of normalcy in their daily lives; with no respite in sight as the economic powers are still seen raising funds to develop a much-elusive vaccine since February 11, 2020 at least, when the infection was officially christened COVID-19.

And on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization had first announced that the COVID-19 virus was officially a pandemic.

Research undertaken by the "Jang Group and Geo Television Network" shows that many of the deadliest pandemics, which have rocked the planet during the last 1,800 years, have influenced the course of human history immensely.

An eminent Indian newspaper "The Hindu" states: "Pandemics have had great influence in shaping human society and politics throughout history. From the Justinian Plague of sixth century to the Spanish Flu of last century, pandemics have triggered the collapse of empires, weakened pre-eminent powers and institutions, created social upheaval and brought down wars."

We all know that the Spanish Flu of 1918, which broke out during the last phase of First World War, was the deadliest pandemic of the last century that had killed up to 50 million people.

The "World Economic Forum" writes: "The flu was first recorded in Europe and then spread fast to America and Asia. India, one of the worst-hit by the pandemic, lost between 17 and 18 million people, roughly 6 per cent of its population. One of the major impacts of the outbreak was on the result of the war. Though the flu hit both sides, the Germans and Austrians were affected so badly that the outbreak derailed their offensives."

Historians have asserted that this 1918 pandemic was one of the reasons for Germany’s defeat in World War I as rampant Influenza had weakened the German units. An Armistice was hence signed on November 11, 1918 that ended the World War I.

According to the eminent New York-based "History Television," British physician Frederick Cartwright’s 2014 book "Disease and History," Oxford University’s Professor Dr. Mary Dobson’s 2007 book "The story of disease and mankind's continuing struggle against it," and American historian Joseph Byrne’s "Encyclopedia of pestilence, pandemics, and plagues" etc, the "Cyprian Plague" of 250 AD had made the dwellers of Cyprus had fled their country to escape infection but instead spread the disease further.

Its symptoms included vomiting, throat ulcers, fever and gangrenous hands and feet. The disease had spread through a Christian bishop of Cyprus. Possibly starting in Ethiopia, it passed through Northern Africa, into Rome, then onto Egypt and northward.

There were recurring outbreaks over the next three centuries. In 444 A.D., it had hit Britain. The Justinian Plague of 541 AD, which had first appeared in Egypt, had spread through Palestine and then throughout the Mediterranean.

One of the books cited above maintains: "The plague changed the course of the empire, squelching Emperor Justinian's plans to bring the Roman Empire back together and causing massive economic struggle."

This plague had also spurred the rapid spread of Christianity. Its recurrences over the next two centuries had eventually killed about 50 million people, or 26 percent of the world population.

Its symptoms had included enlarged lymphatic gland, and was carried by rats and spread by fleas. The Eleventh Century pandemic of Leprosy had haunted Europe predominantly, resulting in the building of numerous leprosy-focused hospitals to accommodate the vast number of victims.

The History website writes: "A slow-developing bacterial disease that causes sores and deformities, leprosy was believed to be a punishment from God that ran in families. 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."

The 1350 "Black Death" was responsible for the death of one-third of the world population. This second large outbreak of the Bubonic Plague had possibly started in Asia. It had entered Europe through a port of Sicily in 1347 A.D. 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.

Ravaging populations in Greenland, the Vikings had lost the strength to wage battle against native populations, and their exploration of North America halted.

The Vikings, as internet tells us, had primarily hailed from Scandinavia (the present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden).

From late Eighth to Eleventh Centuries, these Vikings were gifted with advanced sailing and navigational skills, and had gone on to raid and loot countries like Iceland and Greenland etc.

Viking communities and governments were also established in diverse areas of north-western Europe, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, the North Atlantic islands and as far as the north-eastern coast of North America.

The 1492 "Columbian Exchange" is an era, when the arrival of Spanish invaders in the Caribbean, had passed on diseases such as smallpox, measles and bubonic plague to the native populations.

With no previous exposure, these diseases devastated indigenous people, with as many as 90 percent dying throughout the north and south continents.

A research in 2019 had concluded that the deaths of some 56 million Native Americans during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, largely through diseases, may have altered Earth’s climate as vegetation growth on previously tilled land drew more Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere and caused a cooling event.

In 1665, the "Great Plague of London" had killed an estimated 100,000 people—almost a quarter of London's population—in just 18 months.

The History website propounds: "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 River Thames. The worst of the outbreak tapered off in the fall of 1666, around the same time as another destructive event, the Great Fire of London."

The First Cholera Pandemic of 1817, the first of seven Cholera pandemics over the next 150 years, was caused by small intestine infection. It had originated in Russia, where one million people had perished.

Spreading through feces-infected water and food, the bacterium was passed along to British soldiers who brought it to India where millions more died.

The reach of the British Empire and its navy had then spread this 1817 Cholera to Spain, Africa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Italy, Germany and America, where it killed 150,000 people. A vaccine was created in 1885, but pandemics continued to haunt the vulnerable mankind.

The Third Plague Pandemic of 1855 had started in China and kept moving to India and Hong Kong. This Plague had claimed 15 million victims. Initially spread by fleas, this plague had caused rebellions within the Chinese Empire.

India had faced the most substantial casualties and the epidemic was used as an excuse for repressive policies that sparked some revolt against the British in 1857. The pandemic was considered active until 1960, though cases had dropped below a couple of hundreds.

The Fiji Measles Pandemic of 1857 had spread after a British Royal party had visited Australia as a gift from Queen Victoria, following the fall of Fiji Islands in the lap of the British Empire.

Arriving during a measles outbreak, the Royal party brought the disease back to their island, and it was spread further by the tribal heads and police who met with them upon their return.

Spreading quickly, the island of Fiji was littered with corpses that were scavenged by wild animals, and the entire villages had died.

The corpses had to be set ablaze. One-third of Fiji’s population, or a total of 40,000 people, had succumbed to this pandemic.

The 1889 Russian Flu had started in Siberia and Kazakhstan, and had traveled to Moscow, the pandemic made its way into Finland and then Poland, from where it had moved into the rest of Europe. By the following year, it had crossed the ocean into North America and Africa. By the end of year 1890, over 360,000 humans had died.

The 1918 Spanish Flu, as discussed above, 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.

The media outlets of the time had reported that Flu outbreak in Madrid in the spring of 1918 had led to the pandemic being called the Spanish Flu.

By October, 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.

The 1957 Asian flu had started in Hong Kong and had spread throughout China, before making inroads into the United States and England. In Britain, it had claimed 14,000 lives in just six months. A second wave followed in early 1958, causing an estimated total of about 1.1 million deaths globally, with 116,000 deaths in the United States alone. A vaccine was developed, effectively containing the pandemic.

The 1981 HIV/AIDS was first observed in American gay community residing in various cities, but is believed to have developed from a chimpanzee virus from West Africa in the 1920s. The disease, which spreads through certain body fluids, moved to Haiti in the 1960s, and then New York and San Francisco in the 1970s.

The AIDS destroys a person’s immune system, resulting in eventual death by diseases that the body would usually fight off. Those infected by the HIV virus encounter fever, headache, and enlarged lymph nodes upon infection.

AIDS 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.

And, last but not least, the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) 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.

SARS is characterized by respiratory problems, dry cough, fever and head and body aches and is spread through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes.