Pandemics through history
Amy Fabian (11 AM Micro) must have heard about my other course that I’ve been teaching this semester, BIO216 Unseen Life on Earth. The textbook in Unseen Life is Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World, by Irwin Sherman (2007 ASM Press, available from here). Here is Amy’s summary:
Since we’re at the end of the semester in Microbiology and we’re studying viruses and disease, I thought it would be fitting to have a look through the history of the World’s Epic Disasters of Disease:
- The Great Influenza—1918-1919: Several Epidemiologists term this ‘the deadliest plague in history’. The Great Influenza killed an estimated 100 million people in a period of 6 months. This strain of the flu had a wide area of attack, just like it does now, because it infected not only the very young or very old but also accounted for infection amongst 8-10% of young adults living during these years. It was believed to have started in Haskell, Kansas and transmitted via American Soldiers who fought in WWI that were traveling from base to base within the States. Memories of The Great Influenza outbreak were behind widespread panic about the outbreak in the 1970’s of the Swine Flu and the SAR’s outbreak in the early 2000s.
- The Black Death—1300-1400 and on into the 1700’s: Termed the “Bubonic Plague”, 1/3 of the population in Europe were infected and killed as a result of this disease. 1/3 of the population in Europe at that time accounted for a little more than over 34 million people. Worldwide it killed about 100 million people, but it’s not considered the deadliest plague in history because it killed those 100 million victims over a period of 200 years, not a period of 6 months like The Great Influenza did. Back in the time of The Black Death, scientists thought it was caused by bacterium Y.pestis, although modern research has scientists laying the blame on an Ebola-like virus or Anthrax.
- Malaria— The first recorded treatment dates back to the 1600’s. Epidemiologists call this disease the “Greatest Killer of Humans in History”. The WHO estimates that malaria kills 2.7 people a year, 2800 children a day. This disease is entirely preventable with the use of DDT. After the pesticide DDT was introduced, malaria was all but eradicated. The DDT pesticide has since been banned, however, and as a result, malaria has made an unfortunate comeback into many third world populations.
- AIDS—1981-present: Epidemiologists call HIV/AIDS one of the “Worst Plagues of All-Time”. Like malaria, HIV/AIDS is entirely preventable, because we know for a fact that it’s transmitted via known human behaviors (unprotected sex and IV drug users sharing needles) and unfortunate human accidents (being pricked by a contaminated needle in a health care setting). 25 million people have perished since HIV/AIDS was first recognized clinically in 1981.
- The Common Flu—“Twice the killer as AIDS.” WHO estimates that AIDS kills about 15 million people a year and that the Common Flu kills about 36,000 people a year.
- First Cholera Pandemic—1817-1823: The first Cholera pandemic started in 1817 and lasted for a total of 6 years. Cholera is spread through contaminated food and drinking water. It is believed that infected rice initially began the outbreak and scientists believe it is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholera.
- “The Worst Outbreak of All Time” —1492-1900: The population of the America’s in the pre-Columbian era was 75 million people. During the 1900 census of the Americas, 237,000 people remained. Various diseases were attributed to this drop, with Smallpox being chief amongst them. **What other diseases during this time period (besides Smallpox) could have contributed to the great decline in the population of the pre-Columbian Americas?**