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How the 5 most terrible pandemics in history ended

While some ancient pandemics wiped out many populations, medical and public health initiatives can eventually stop the spread of other pandemics.

As human civilization flourished, so did infectious diseases. Densely populated communities living with animals, often with poor sanitary and nutritional conditions, create a good soil for disease. Then, trade routes abroad spread new infections, causing the world’s first pandemic.

But in the end how the worst pandemics in the history of the world ended.

Plague of Justinian: no one left to die

Yersinia pestis, formerly known as pasteurella pestis, is the bacteria that causes plague.

Three of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history are the same bacteria, Yersinia pestis, a deadly infection known as the plague.

The Justinian plague began in Egypt, where black rats carrying disease-carrying fleas crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in AD 541.

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Images of plague bacteria under a light microscope. Photo: Getty Images

The plague devastated Constantinople, where Emperor Justinian ruled, and spread like fire across Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Arab countries.

“People really don’t know how to fight disease, they’re just trying to avoid the sick,” said Thomas Mockaitis, professor of history at DePaul University.

Justinian’s crusade only ended after killing around 30 to 50 million people, probably half of the world’s population.

“Black Death” – The advent of quarantine

The plague never really went away, and when it returned 800 years later, it killed even more terribly. The “black plague” pandemic, which hit Europe in 1347, killed around 200 million people in four years.

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Painting depicting the scene of death during the “black plague” pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

At that time, people still didn’t have a scientific understanding of infectious diseases, but they did know it was related to living together, Professor Mockaitis said. That’s why progressive officials in the port city of Ragusa, where the Venetians control, decided to quarantine the newly moored sailors until they could prove they weren’t sick. .

Initially, the sailors were quarantined on their ships for 30 days, according to data recorded in Venice law. Subsequently, the Venetians increased the quarantine period to 40 days, or “quarantine” (40), from the root of the term “quarantine” today, meaning “quarantine”. Since then, the West has started to adopt this rule to prevent the spread of the disease.

Plague London – Completely quarantine patient

London has never really been “off” since the “Black Death” pandemic. The plague reappeared every 20 years from 1348 to 1665 – with 40 plagues in 300 years. Every time there is a new epidemic, up to 20% of men, women and children in London die.

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Scenes of London during the plague in 1665 through pictures. Photo: Getty

In the early 1500s, Britain imposed the first laws to isolate and quarantine patients. Plague-stricken houses are marked with a bundle of hay tied to the outside. If a person has infected family members, they should carry a white stick with them when going out in public. Cats and dogs were believed to carry diseases, so a massacre occurred in the hundreds of thousands of animals.

The plague of 1665 was the latest and most catastrophic in a series of plagues that spanned centuries, killing around 100,000 Londoners in just seven months. All public recreational activities are prohibited and victims are forced to lock their doors inside to prevent the outbreak from spreading. The door of each house has the sick person painted with a red cross with a prayer: “God have mercy on us”.

Locking the sick in the house and burying the dead in mass graves is the only way to put an end to this last great plague.

The smallpox epidemic devastated America and the introduction of vaccines

Smallpox has been endemic in Europe, Asia and the Arab world for centuries, a nagging threat that typically kills 30% of those infected and leaves ugly concave scars on the skin of survivors. rest. However, the death rate in the old continents is nothing compared to the devastation wreaked by the smallpox epidemic targeting the indigenous inhabitants of the “New Continent” (Americas) as the smallpox virus followed European explorers. first sprinkling here in the 15th century.

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European explorers and conquerors brought smallpox to the Americas.

The indigenous peoples of the territories today are Mexico and the United States has no natural immunity to smallpox, so this virus has claimed tens of millions of lives here.

“No fatal tragedy in history can compare to what happened in the Americas when 90 to 95 percent of the indigenous population were wiped out in a century,” history professor Mockaitis said. “Mexico of 11 million people before the invasion, only a million remain.”

Centuries later, smallpox became the first viral pandemic to end with a vaccine.
At the end of the 18th century, an English physician by the name of Edward Jenner discovered that dairy cows were infected with a milder type of smallpox virus called “cowpox” (cowpox), and they appeared to be immune to the disease. . smallpox (smallpox). Those who milk cows, after suffering from the disease of “cowpox”, do not get smallpox at all. Do you think that it is possible to spread the disease of “cowpox” to humans to prevent smallpox?

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Painting of Mr. Jenner vaccinating a boy.

He first met a woman who specialized in milking cows with cowpea disease, took pus from the pimples, and then transplanted it onto the arm of a healthy baby. After a week of “cowpox” illness, the baby made a full recovery. A year later he tried to transplant smallpox pus into this baby, the boy was completely disease free. Since then, he has completed the technology to make his vaccines in the following steps: First, take some smallpox germs from an infected cow. Then weaken these bacteria and then inject the germs into human blood. From then on, people who are vaccinated will no longer get smallpox because their blood already has a resistance factor.

“The eradication of smallpox, the most frightening human catastrophe, must be the end result of this experiment,” Jenner wrote in 1801. And he was right. But it took nearly two centuries, in 1980, for the World Health Organization to announce that smallpox was completely wiped out from Earth.

Cholera – A victory for public health research

From the beginning to the middle of the 19th century, cholera ravaged England, killing tens of thousands of people. The scientific theory in force at the time said that the disease was spread by a polluting gas called miasma. But an English doctor named John Snow suspects the mysterious illness, which killed the victim days after the first symptom appeared, is lurking in London’s drinking water.

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Dr John Snow discovered the source of the cholera infection in London. Getty Images

Snow acted as Sherlock Holmes’ science detective, investigating hospital records and mortuary reports to track the exact location of the deadly outbreaks. He created a geographic graph of cholera deaths over a 10-day period and found a cluster of 500 dead around the Broad Street Pumping Station, the city’s famous well.

“As soon as I became aware of the situation and the extent of the cholera epidemics, I became wary of the pollution of the water coming from a well on Broad Street,” Snow wrote.

With persistent efforts, Snow persuaded local authorities to remove the pump handle from the Broad Street well, rendering it unusable and, like a miracle, the infections wore off.

Of course, Snow’s work didn’t get rid of cholera overnight, but it ultimately led to global efforts to improve urban sanitation and protect water resources from contamination.

Although cholera has been largely eradicated in developed countries, today it remains a persistent killer in developing countries, where wastewater is not fully treated and access to clean water remains. limit.

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