Issue #8: Pandemic is one of many

Seth Jarvis, Editor-in-Chief

It is that time of the century again! A pandemic has gripped the globe, and it has basically canceled spring 2020. While this isn’t the first pandemic of the 21st century, it is definitely the biggest one for the planet.

The truth is plagues have been quite common throughout human history. They even have a weird pattern to them. I’m going to talk about the ones I find the most interesting, as there have been dozens of global outbreaks throughout the last couple centuries.

Let us start back in the 20th century. There were quite a few pandemics that gripped the globe.

One of the biggest was the Asian Flu. This disease started in 1957 and went on until 1958. The virus started in the city of Hong Kong in April and eventually traveled to the United States. In the end, it killed 116,000 Americans.  However, the U.S. did not lock down nearly as much during this pandemic as others in history. The virus did cause the Dow Jones Industrial average to drop by 15 percent.

Another major pandemic of the 20th century was the Hong Kong Flu. The virus killed 1,000,000 people across the globe and 100,000 in the United States. It is thought that the virus was less serious in the United States due to some people having immunity form the Asian Flu.

There is one pandemic, however, that trumps them all in the 20th century. This was the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The virus wiped out nearly 50,000,000 people. There were around 675,000 killed in the United States. It brought even more devastation to a world already wrecked by the First Great War.

This virus was unique in the sense that it largely targeted young people. It is believed that when the virus attacked a young person, their immune system went into overdrive. In the end, this would result in the young person dying.

Older populations were not nearly as affected by the virus as younger people were. It is thought that they had built up immunity from an earlier, smaller flu pandemic in the late 1800s.

Now, let’s go back five centuries and look at one of the worst pandemics in human history: The Black Death. This was a disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia Pestis.

It spread when fleas that were exposed to the bacteria from infected rats that bit humans. Those infected with the bacteria would have swollen lymph nodes along with a horrible fever and chills.

The plague was at its height from 1347-1353. The disease  itself originated from Asia and eventually made its way to Europe. It began when ships docked at the Italian city of Messina. It quickly spread throughout the continent.

In the end, it killed about 1/3 of the population of Europe. That would’ve been 20,000,000 people. This plague sent Europe on a different path. With so many people gone, many peasants began demanding more rights. This would drive Europe towards the Renaissance which would change the destiny of Europe.

After the initial catastrophe, plagues continued to strike Europe for centuries afterward. However, not one managed to reach the sheer level of disaster the first plague brought upon the continent.

One of the most famous was the Great Plague of London that happened from 1665-1666. This one killed about 100,000 people in the city, almost a quarter of the population. London wasn’t able to catch a break, however, as the Great Fire of London occurred in 1666.

There is one series of plagues, however, that truly brought about the end of the world for many civilizations. When the Europeans came to the Americas, they brought with them all of their nasty illnesses. Diseases such as smallpox devastated native populations. The Aztec Empire lost up to 80 percent of its population from the disease. This made it very easy for the Spanish Empire to conquer their territories.

What happened to the Aztecs, happened to just about every other native group in the Americas . It is estimated that 90 percent of the population of the Americas was wiped out from disease brought by Europeans. This would’ve been more than 50,000,000 people that disappeared from the face of Earth.

There really is no coming back from that. Entire cultures and histories of people were lost forever because of that. These plagues are what allowed the Europeans to conquer the Americas and eventually replace the old native nations.

The reason  old-world diseases killed so many people in the new world was because the natives never had any exposure to those diseases. Many of those illnesses originated from animals and their products. Europeans had farmed and used livestock for centuries, and because of that, their bodies had learned out to fight back.

Natives in America, however, really didn’t have livestock. Because of this, they had no immunity to those sicknesses. In the end, this resulted in the destruction of their society.

In a way, pandemics are a natural thing for human society. They have been here for as long as settled civilization has existed. We share this planet with trillions of different beings, among them bacteria and the strange unliving viruses.

These things all have the same goal as us:  survival. However, their method of survival comes into conflict with our own.

Our bodies do a pretty good job fighting them off, but occasionally there is one that comes along that we can’t fight that well. So, we have to find different ways to fight it off.

We can look back at our history and see where the people of the past succeeded and failed when facing off against a pandemic. Humans are a resilient species, and we have always found a way to survive.