Scientists and medical researchers have, for years, battled against the widespread occurrence of diseases. History has seen its fair share of brutal killers—cholera, bubonic plague, and influenza.

Where does COVID-19 stand?

Diseases – COVID-19 reportedly emerged in the region of Wuhan, China in December 2019. It was initially considered an epidemic until the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic in March 2020. It has since infected more than 1,100,000 people and killed 59,000 in four months.

Right now, it is impossible to predict the course COVID-19 will take. However, we can take something from previous pandemics to determine the best course of action we can take against the new virus.

The Black Death (1346 – 1353)

The Black Death, otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague, is considered one of the deadliest pandemics in history. It claimed the lives of 200 million people in four years.

The plague reportedly started in Asia and jumped continents via fleas on the rats often seen boarding merchant ships.

The Black Death ended after Venetian officials decided newly arrived sailors should be kept in isolation to prevent spreading the disease. The method was called ‘quarantino’, which then became the origin of the word quarantine.

Flu (1918)

A deadly disease outbreak of influenza swept across the globe between 1918 and 1920. The virus infected over a third of the world’s population and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people.

The flu pandemic killed 25 million people in the first 25 weeks with a mortality rate of 10 to 20 percent. Healthy young people, who should have been safe from the influenza outbreak, suffered the most, while children and those with compromised immune systems were left alive and well.

HIV/AIDS (2005-2012)

The sexually transmitted disease was first identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976. The pandemic, which has now become manageable in modern times, killed more than 36 million since 1981.

It is estimated there are at least 30 million people living with HIV/AIDS. A vast majority of victims live in Sub-Saharan Africa where health experts estimate 21 million people are infected.

Scientists are continuing to develop treatments that help HIV/AIDS patients lead manageable lives. Two victims have been cured of the diseases as of writing.

Smallpox (1870 – 1874)

The smallpox pandemic wreaked havoc in Europe, Asia, and Arabia for centuries. The disease killed three out of ten people. Victims of smallpox are often left with pockmarked scars.

When smallpox arrived with the first European explorers in the 15th century, 90 to 95 percent of the native population—including the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the United States—were wiped out.

A British doctor discovered the vaccine after he found milkmaids infected with cowpox to be immune to the smallpox pandemic. He infected his helper’s 9-year-old child with cowpox. Upon exposing him to smallpox, the doctor found the child did not show any ill symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smallpox has been completely eradicated in 1980.

Cholera (Early to mid 19th century)

Cholera originated in India where it spread through the Ganges River before tearing through other continents. The disease was initially thought to be transmitted through foul air known as “miasma.”

Between 1817 and 1975, Cholera has seven outbreaks, with two being considered a pandemic. The first three outbreaks killed more than 15 million people in India alone. 23 million more people died during the fourth to sixth pandemics.

A British doctor named John Snow discovered the means of transmission in 1854 after tracing cholera cases in an impoverished area of London. He convinced local officials to remove the pump handle on the drinking well used by thousands of people.

Snow’s discovery heavily influenced many countries to improve sanitary conditions in urban cities, as well as protecting drinking water from contamination.




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