Pandemics That Changed History: Timeline

Pandemics That Changed History: Timeline

In the area of ​​infectious diseases, a pandemic is the worst case. When an epidemic spreads beyond the borders of a country, it is at this point that the disease officially becomes a pandemic.

Communicable diseases existed during the hunter-gatherer era, but the transition to agrarian life 10,000 years ago created communities that made epidemics more possible. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others appeared for the first time during this period.

Pandemics That Changed History: Timeline
Pandemics That Changed History: Timeline

The more civilized humans have become, building cities and forging trade routes to connect with and wage wars with other cities, the more likely pandemics will become. See below a chronology of pandemics which, by ravaging human populations, have changed history.

430 BC: Athens

The first recorded pandemic occurred during the Peloponnesian War. After the disease crossed Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, it crossed the walls of Athens while the Spartans were besieged. Almost two thirds of the population have died.

Symptoms included fever, thirst, bloody throat and tongue, red skin and sores. The disease, suspected of having been typhoid fever, considerably weakened the Athenians and was an important factor in their defeat against the Spartans.

165 A.D .: Antonine Plague

Antonine plague was perhaps an early onset of smallpox that began with the Huns. The Huns then infected the Germans, who transmitted it to the Romans, then the return troops spread it throughout the Roman Empire. Symptoms included fever, sore throat, diarrhea and, if the patient lived long enough, sores filled with pus. This plague continued until around 180 AD, making the emperor Marc-Aurèle one of its victims.

250 AD: Cyprian plague

Named after the first known victim, the Christian bishop of Carthage, the Cypriot plague caused diarrhea, vomiting, ulcers of the throat, fever and gangrenous hands and feet.

City dwellers fled to the country to escape infection but instead spread the disease. Perhaps starting in Ethiopia, it crossed North Africa, Rome, then Egypt and north.

There were recurrent epidemics over the next three centuries. In 444 AD, it struck Britain and hampered defense efforts against the Picts and the Scots, forcing the British to seek help from the Saxons, who would soon control the island.

541 A.D .: Justinian Plague

Justinian plague first appeared in Egypt, has spread Palestine and the Byzantine Empire, then throughout the Mediterranean.

The plague changed the course of the empire, canceling the plans of the Justinian emperor to assemble the Roman Empire and causing a massive economic struggle. He is also credited with having created an apocalyptic atmosphere which stimulated the rapid spread of Christianity.

Recurrences in the next two centuries ultimately killed around 50 million people, or 26% of the world’s population. It is believed to be the first significant appearance of bubonic plague, which has an enlarged lymph gland and is carried by rats and spread by fleas.

11th century: leprosy

Although it has existed for centuries, leprosy has become a pandemic in Europe in the Middle Ages, leading to the construction of many hospitals focused on leprosy to accommodate the large number of victims.

A slow-developing bacterial disease that causes sores and deformities, leprosy was seen as a punishment from God who ran in families. This belief has led to moral judgments and the ostracization of the victims. Now known as Hansen’s disease, it still affects tens of thousands of people a year and can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics.

1350: The black plague

Responsible for the death of a third of the world’s population, this second great epidemic of bubonic plague may have started in Asia and moved west in caravans. Entered by Sicily in 1347 AD when the plague victims arrived in the port of Messina, it quickly spread throughout Europe. The corpses became so widespread that many remained rotten on the ground and created a constant stench in the cities.

England and France were so struck by the plague that countries called a truce for their war. The British feudal system collapsed when the plague changed the economic and demographic situation. Ravaging populations in Greenland, The Vikings lost the strength to wage a battle against the native populations, and their exploration of North America stopped.

1492: The Colombian exchange

Next the the arrival of the Spanish in the Caribbean, diseases such as smallpox, measles and bubonic plague were transmitted to the indigenous populations by Europeans. Without prior exposure, these diseases devastated indigenous populations, with up to 90% of deaths on the north and south continents.

Upon his arrival on the island of Hispaniola, Christopher Columbus met the Taino people, 60,000 inhabitants. In 1548, the population was less than 500 inhabitants. This scenario was repeated in all the Americas.

In 1520, the Aztec Empire was destroyed by infection with smallpox. The disease has killed and struck many more. This weakened the population and could not resist the Spanish colonizers and left the farmers unable to produce the necessary crops.

Research in 2019 even concluded that the deaths of some 56 million Native Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries, largely due to disease, may have altered the Earth’s climate, as vegetation growth on previously held land plowing drew more CO2 from the atmosphere and caused cooling.

READ MORE: How the death toll from colonization may have affected Earth’s climate

1665: The great plague in London

The Great Plague from 1665 to 1666 graphic

A graph showing the huge increase in deaths during the Great Plague in London in 1665 and 1666. The solid line shows all the deaths and the broken lines attributed to the plague.

Hulton Archives / Getty Images

In another devastating appearance, the bubonic plague caused the death of 20% of the population of London. As the number of human deaths increased and mass graves appeared, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs were killed as a possible cause and the disease spread to ports along the Thames. The worst of the epidemic subsided in the fall of 1666, roughly at the same time as another destructive event: the Great Fire of London.

1817: First cholera pandemic

The first of the seven Cholera pandemics in the next 150 years, this wave of small intestine infection was born in Russia, where a million people died. Spread in fecal-infected water and food, the bacteria was transmitted to British soldiers who brought it to India where millions more died. The reach of the British Empire and its navy spread cholera to Spain, Africa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Italy, Germany and America, where it killed 150,000 people. A vaccine was created in 1885, but the pandemics continued.

1855: the third plague pandemic

Departing from China and moving to India and Hong Kong, the bubonic plague claimed 15 million lives. Originally spread by fleas during a mining boom in Yunnan, the plague is considered a factor in the Parthay rebellion and the Taiping rebellion. India faced the greatest losses and the epidemic was used as an excuse for repressive policies which sparked some revolt against the British. The pandemic was considered active until 1960, when the cases fell below a few hundred.

1875: Fiji measles pandemic

After Fiji ceded to the British Empire, a royal holiday went to Australia Queen Victoria. Arrived during an epidemic of measles, the royal party brought back the disease on their island, and it was spread by the chiefs of tribes and the police force which met them on their return.

Spreading rapidly, the island was littered with corpses that were recovered by wild animals, and entire villages died and were burned, sometimes with sick people trapped inside the fires. A third of the Fijian population, or 40,000 people in total, has died.

1889: Russian flu

The first major influenza pandemic began in Siberia and Kazakhstan, traveled to Moscow and made its way to Finland, then to Poland, where it settled in the rest of Europe. The following year, he had crossed the ocean in North America and Africa. By the end of 1890, 360,000 had died.

1918: Spanish flu

The bird flu that has killed 50 million people worldwide, The 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before spreading rapidly around the world. At the time, there was no effective drug or vaccine to treat this killer flu strain. Press reports of an influenza epidemic in Madrid in the spring of 1918 led to the pandemic being called “Spanish flu”.

In October, hundreds of thousands of Americans died and the shortage of body storage reached a critical level. But the threat of the flu disappeared in the summer of 1919, when most of the infected had developed immunities or died.

1957: Asian flu

Starting in Hong Kong and spreading throughout China and then to the United States, the Asian flu spread in England where, in six months, 14,000 people died. A second wave followed in early 1958, causing an estimated total of about 1.1 million deaths worldwide, including 116,000 in the United States alone. A vaccine has been developed, effectively containing the pandemic.

1981: HIV / AIDS

First identified in 1981, AIDS destroys a person’s immune system, possibly resulting in death from diseases that the body generally fights. People infected with the HIV virus experience fever, headache and enlarged lymph nodes during infection. When symptoms go away, carriers become very infectious with blood and genital fluids, and the disease destroys T cells.

AIDS was first observed in homosexual American communities, but it is thought to have developed from a West African chimpanzee virus in the 1920s. The disease, which spreads through certain bodily fluids, moved to Haiti in the 1960s, then to New York and San Francisco in the 1970s.

Treatments have been developed to slow the progression of the disease, but 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery, and a cure remains to be found.

2003: SARS

Identified for the first time in 2003 after several months of cases, severe acute respiratory syndrome may have started with bats, spread to cats and then to humans in China, followed by 26 other countries, infecting 8096 people, with 774 deaths .

SARS is characterized by respiratory problems, dry cough, fever and headache and body ache and is spread by respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing.

The quarantine efforts were effective and in July the virus was contained and has not re-emerged since. China has been criticized for trying to suppress information about the virus at the start of the epidemic.

SARS has been seen by global health professionals as a red flag to improve outbreak responses, and lessons from the pandemic have been used to control diseases like H1N1, Ebola and Zika.

2019: COVID-19

COVID-19, Coronavirus

This photo taken on February 17, 2020 shows a man (L) who had mild symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus using a laptop computer in an exhibition center turned into a hospital in Wuhan in central Hubei Province in China.

STR / AFP / Getty Images

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 virus was officially a pandemic after crossing 114 countries in three months and infecting more than 118,000 people. And the spread was not far from over.

COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus – a new strain of coronavirus that has not previously been found in humans. Symptoms include breathing problems, fever and cough and can lead to pneumonia and death. Like SARS, it is spread by sneeze droplets.

The first reported case in China appeared on November 17, 2019 in Hubei province, but was not recognized. Eight other cases appeared in December, with researchers pointing to an unknown virus.

Many discovered COVID-19-19 when ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang challenged government orders and communicated safety information to other doctors. The next day, China informed the WHO and charged Li with a crime. Li died of COVID-19 just over a month later.

With no vaccine available, the virus has spread beyond China’s borders and by mid-March it had spread worldwide to more than 163 countries. On February 11, the infection was officially named COVID-19.

SOURCES

Illness and history by Frederick C. Cartwright, published by Sutton Editions, 2014.

Illness: The story of illness and of humanity’s continuing struggle against it by Mary Dobson, published by Quercus, 2007.

Encyclopedia of plague, pandemics and plagues by Ed, Joseph P. Byrne, published by Greenwood Press, 2008.

Flu, the American experience.

Source book of medical history, Logan Clendening, published by Dover Publications, 1960.

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