Pandemics are epidemics that cross national or international boundaries and affect great numbers of people. In other words, a whole lot of people living in a wide area have all been infected with the same disease. This isn’t just a case of the sniffles running rampant through a school district.
With many people, the first thing to come to mind when discussing pandemics is the Black Death, sometimes called the Black Plague. While it is impossible to cite exact numbers, it is believed the Black Death claimed up to 200 million lives from 1347 to roughly 1350. In just three years, it decimated up to 60% of the entire population of Europe. This pandemic of the bubonic plague originated in or near China and spread through the Silk Road to Europe. Fleas, carried on the backs of rats that infested all the merchant ships back then, helped to spread the disease everywhere they went.
Take a moment and let those numbers sink in a bit. 200 million people perished as a result of the disease. To put that into perspective, estimated population numbers in 2012 indicate there are roughly 314 million people living in the United States, including the District of Columbia. Can you even imagine what life would be like if two-thirds of the U.S. population all died within a few years? How long do you think it would take for life to return to anything close to normal? According to some experts, it took Europe about 150 years to get back on its feet.
A more recent example is the flu pandemic that occurred in 1918-1919. This was the first major outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus. It is sometimes referred to as the Spanish Flu, only because of how the news of the virus spread back then. Remember, this was during World War I. Back in those days, censors worked hard to keep morale up by not allowing much negative news to hit the airwaves. I know, that would never happen today. So, anyway, as the early reports about the illness and mortality rates started coming in from Germany, the United States, Britain, and France, these censors did what they could to keep it hushed up. Spain, however, was neutral during WWI and didn’t bother keeping things quiet. The result was that news reports seemed to indicate Spain was being hit hard by this flu but not so much the rest of the world. Therefore, it came to be called the Spanish Flu.
What was particularly chilling about this flu outbreak was how it targeted the healthy segments of the population. Rather than the deaths being centered among the elderly, infirm, and children, it was the healthy young adults who were hardest hit. This was due to how the flu virus worked. What happened was the virus caused what is called a cytokine storm in the body. Essentially, this means the patient’s immune system went into overdrive and the healthier the patient was at the outset, the more powerful the immune system, resulting in cytokine storms that killed the patients.
This flu pandemic hit just about every corner of the planet. While numbers are still sketchy, estimated death tolls range from 50-100 million. Now, no matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of dead bodies but bear in mind that most of them perished within about a 9 month period.
Could something like that happen today? I mean, with all our modern medical knowledge and technology, surely the powers that be would be able to act quickly to develop a remedy and nip it in the bud before things got out of control, right?
Think about this, though. HIV/AIDS has been around since 1981 and they still haven’t figured out a cure for it.