Pandemics Throughout History and What We Can Learn From Them
Contagious plagues that ravaged humankind
Throughout history, infectious diseases have spread out, causing global panic and economic decline. It has plagued humanity from the very beginning due to widespread trade, urbanization and human contact. The novel coronavirus isn’t the first and will not be the last. From tuberculosis to influenza to smallpox, these outbreaks have afflicted humankind.
In ancient civilizations, contagious diseases ravaged populations, which the superstitious believed to be inflicted by spirits and gods—and their almighty wrath. This very unscientific theory led to even more unwarranted deaths.
The devastating Black Death virus from 1347-1351, also known as the Pestilence, resulted in an estimated 200 million deaths globally. It was caused by rodents. In the “epidemic of an apocalyptic nature,” protective measures were formalized, which included closing ports and practicing good, public hygiene. The term “quarantine” was created as citizens were subjected to months of isolation—yes, much like present circumstances. Authorities required ships to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing thus the Italian term “quaranta giorni” or 40 days.
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Repeated plague outbreaks meanwhile cursed North America and Europe, notoriously the yellow fever and smallpox in the 1700s to 1800s. The first-ever vaccine was created to cure smallpox.
The Spanish Flu, the virus which changed the world, infected a third of the world’s population; it lasted for two years. Regardless of its unfortunate name, scientists believe it didn’t originate from Spain, nobody knows where; still people were stigmatized by it. This is similar to the unfortunate rise of xenophobia targeted at Chinese men and women at present because of the origin of COVID-19: Wuhan in China. Reports of racist attacks have spread throughout the world, another problematic outbreak.
Due to the advancement of healthcare and modern medicine across the globe, the persistence of deaths have decreased throughout history. Still, without a cure to the pandemic we’re facing at present, more lives are at stake including health professionals and other frontliners risking their lives for the war against COVID-19.
The Miharu Takizakura, a tree tucked into a valley in Japan, blooms again. The ancient cherry tree has seen its fair share of tragedy for more than a thousand years. It is a reminder, as with the plagues throughout history, that terrible things happen but it does get better. After all, “life is layers, layers of bad and good.”
Art Alexandra Lara