Whether caused by bacteria, viruses, or other malicious microorganisms, the disease has been a neighborhood of human life since there has been human life. As human civilization flourished, so did infectious diseases. An increase in population and an enormous number of individuals living approximately with poor sanitation and nutrition provided a tract for diseases. With our world becoming extremely interconnected, viruses spread at the speed of a jet.
Plague of Justinian: 541 AD
The Justinian Plague was the primary major outbreak of the plague pandemic. The contagion is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis and spread across the Mediterranean basin, Europe, and the Middle East within the Byzantine Empire.
The plague changed the course of the empire, squelching Emperor Justinian’s decision to bring the Roman Empire back together and causing a massive economic struggle. It’s also credited with creating an apocalyptic atmosphere that spurred the rapid spread of Christianity.
The Black Death: 1346-1353
Responsible for the death of around one-third of the world’s population, the plague, or Black Death, possibly started in Asia and moved west in caravans.
England and France were so incapacitated by the plague that the countries called a truce to their war. British feudalism collapsed when this plague changed the economic circumstances. The Vikings of Greenland lost their strength and their exploration of North America halted.
The Great Plague of London: 1665
In another devastating appearance of the plague, one-fifth of London’s population was killed by this. As fatality tolls mounted and mass graves began to appear, many cats and dogs were slaughtered because of the possible cause, and therefore the disease spread across through the ports of Thames.
The worst outbreak tapered off within the fall of 1666, around the same time as another destructive event, the Good Fire of London.
Cholera Pandemic: 1817
The first of the seven Cholera pandemics over the subsequent 150 years, this wave of intestine infection originated in Russia, where a million people died. Spreading through feces infected water and food, the infection was passed along British soldiers who brought this bacterium 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. Its vaccine was developed in 1885 but the pandemic continued.
The avian-borne flu that resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide, the 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the US, and Asia before spreading around the world. The virus spread swiftly in Madrid creating an epidemic within the spring of 1918. By October, many thousands of US citizens died and body storage scarcity hit the crisis level. But the flu threat disappeared within the summer of 1919 when most of the people had developed antibodies to the present virus or had died.
What looking back at the pandemics of the past shows us is that disease may be a formidable opponent, whether our technology and level of medical knowledge is medieval or modern. It’s important for humanity’s past experiences to tell its present and future ones.
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