Let’s talk about the history of pandemics - GulfToday

Let’s talk about the history of pandemics


Grave diggers wearing personal protective equipment lower a coffin at a graveyard on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Reuters

Ojjus Chawla, Indo-Asian News Service

As we all know, a pandemic is an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across the world and created havoc. For instance, you might have heard this term when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the WHO. Although the history of pandemics is quite long and extensive, from the 1918 Spanish Flu to COVID-19 now, pandemics have always impacted life as we know it. It all started with the earliest recorded pandemic which happened during the Peloponnesian War. After it affected Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, it not only crossed the Athenian walls but also lay siege to the Spartans — as many as two-thirds of the population died of it. Even though this was the first ever pandemic, it was not as deadly in comparison to other subsequent pandemics.

One of the worst pandemics was “The Plague of Justinian”. The number of deaths is unknown. It was the beginning of the first Old World pandemic of plague, the contagious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It started in 541 AD and ended around 750 AD. Scientists believe that the Plague of Justinian spread through fleas. Studies indicate the plague may have originated in China or India and was then transported to the fertile valleys of Egypt through trade routes since technology and medicines were quite old and some had not yet been discovered. Surprisingly, the plague doctors had to guess as to what might end this pandemic. They attempted treatments such as vinegar and water or told the patients to carry flowers around all day, but they all failed.

Now, let’s come to one of the major pandemics, the ‘Spanish Flu’. The Spanish Flu, which is also known as the 1918 Influenza virus, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time – in four successive waves. By the summer of 1919 the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity.

History tells us that the worst pandemic recorded to date is ‘Black Death’, which killed roughly over 75-200 million people. Black Death was essentially a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Afro-Eurasia from 1346 to 1353. It was present mainly in Eurasia and North Africa. This plague was also caused by the Yersinia pestis. It was spread around through fleas. These bugs picked up the germs when they bit infected animals, then passed them to the next animal or person they bit. This pandemic eventually ended through the implementation of quarantines, that’s right, the same quarantine that we are currently stuck in. The uninfected would typically remain in their homes and only leave when it was necessary, while those who could afford to do so would leave the more densely populated areas and live in isolation. I believe that if this same faith and patronage are to be followed now, the current COVID-19 cases will drop and we can return to normalcy.

Coming to the West African Ebola virus epidemic, which started on Dec 26, 2013 and ended by Jun 9, 2016, it killed over 11,323 people. It was deadly and dangerous and people again had no clue about the symptoms or how to stay safe from the virus. Researchers and scientists eventually found a solution i.e., a vaccine.

On December 31, 2020, the first-ever coronavirus case was recorded. As we all know, ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ stands for virus and ‘D’ for disease. The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China and from there it travelled and spread across the globe. The cause of the coronavirus is unknown but that doesn’t change the fact that it is fatal and destructive. In 2020, when the first lockdown happened, we were all quite alarmed and frightened as to where this would lead and how we would manage. We didn’t realise that it was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that it’s 2021, the situation has not gotten better but worsened. The cases are higher than ever, people are dying and in need of oxygen or plasma. In India, things are not looking good but we can also curb this situation and help out each other in these difficult times by donating plasma or money or even basic supplies, volunteering virtually. There is always something you can do to help others.

Although this article doesn’t even come close to capturing all the deadly and disastrous pandemics, what we do know is that these pandemics have brought untimely deaths of our near and dear ones and a lot of pain and suffering to mankind. Not only this, but pandemics are also known to create havoc in human civilisations and disrupt life as we know it. But what I have learnt is that in the midst of a pandemic, there is always a greater sense of unity amongst the people also bringing out the goodness and kindness in people. As history is witness, we always end up adapting to such situations and find a solution to make it out of these pandemics. So, with this we must realise that a crisis can bring misery, difficulty and death, but it also brings forth hope, the strength of human spirit, the goodness of the human heart, and formidable will to say: “The show must go on.”

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