A History of Pandemics
By Danny Keating, Director of the Louisiana/Mississippi HVAC Insider
Since we all have been “hunkering down” in one way or the other for the past couple of months, I decided to see how the Wuhan Flu, Covid-19, Coronavirus or whatever you want to call it stacks up against the great pandemics in history. Of course, all tragedies are very personal especially if you have lost a loved one. So, when I say that this pandemic does not come close when measuring it against past worldwide plagues, please do not think I am not referring to any individual cases. However, on the overall scale of horrible past sicknesses this one is mild.
In 165 A.D., Roman Soldiers returning from the Near East brought either smallpox or measles back with them to Rome and started the Antonine Plague. It was estimated to have killed 10 percent of Rome’s population including the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The total death toll is an estimated 5 million people.
In 541 A.D., The Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine) was struck by the Justinian Plague, named after their Emperor Justinian. Since the capital, Constantinople was a prosperous trading center the disease was probably spread by rats arriving by sailing ships. The plague lasted for years and killed an estimated 50 million people, almost half of the population of Europe.
The worst of all pandemics, the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) arrived in in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. It was believed to have started in central Asia and spread throughout the world through the trade routes. It is estimated to have killed 200 million people having a devastating effect on the world’s population. It was thought that it was spread by fleas and was eventually contained by the implementation of quarantines. Trading cities such as Venice would not let sailors get off of their ships for 40 days. In the 14th century Venetian language, the word for forty days was “quarantena.” From there we derived our modern term quarantine.
At the end of World War 1 in 1918, the Spanish flu, an unusually deadly influenza pandemic hit the world. Lasting from spring 1918 through early summer 1919, it infected 500 million people or about a third of the world’s population at that time. It was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus and resulted in close to 50 million deaths. This was right on the heels of the tragic loss of life from the war that totaled nearly 20 million people. We had more deaths from the Spanish Flu than we had from World War I.
After 1950, aside from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has killed almost 30 million people since 1981, the pandemics have been relatively tame including the Covid-19 one. The Asian Flu in 1957-1958 and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968-1970 killed 1 million people each, but SARS (2002-2003), the Swine Flu (2009-2010), Ebola (2014-2016), MERS (2015) and COVID-19 (2019-2020) have not been nearly as deadly.
As of May 7, 2020, there have been 270,352 deaths attributed to this virus worldwide. The United States had almost 77,000 of those deaths.
I just thought it would be helpful to present some historical facts about what happened in the past as relates to pandemics. Remember, “Those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it.”