As the apocalyptic fourth horseman of pestilence and death rides roughshod over the world spreading a pall of coronavirus, some no doubt think this plague signals the End Times or the work of the Antichrist, Satan’s chief agent on Earth.
The Coronavirus is Significant But it’s Not the Only Pandemic That’s Devastated the World
True, the numbers are staggering — at this writing there are approximately 740,000 Covid-19 cases around the globe and deaths number 35,000 and climbing. The virus has created worldwide panic and played havoc with economies as entire countries have declared states of emergency, closing borders, forcing business to close and ordering citizens to remain quarantined in their homes.
There is not doubt the coronavirus will change the way the world looks when the virus is finally under control. But for those who believe we are doomed, it is worth remembering that pandemics have long plagued mankind and at time appeared hopeless to defeat. Here is a look at some former pandemics that changed the course of human history.
The Plague of Justinian (541-750AD)
Although the Plague of Justinian (541-750 A.D.) is one of the most well-documented plagues, historians find it impossible to accurately predict the number of deaths, although most place the death toll at between 30 to 50-million people. At the time this was about half the population of the known world. This incredibly devastating pandemic happened during the reign of Justinian the First, Byzantine Empire emperor, hence its name.
Infected by fleas, rats in Africa sailed on merchant ships to Europe and were the likely cause and according to ancient historian Procopius. As many as 10,000 infected people died daily. The victims had fevers and swollen lymph nodes, indicating symptoms of the bubonic plague.
The Black Death (1347-1353)
Once again, the Grim Reaper arrived in Europe in the form of the Black Death. The plague was most probably from Italian sailors who had been in the Crimea (or it originated in China and was carried to Europe, opinions differ) and half the population of Europe – 50 million – fell victim between 1347-1353.
Also known as the Bubonic Plague, the disease wiped out entire towns and generations. Welsh poet Jeuan Gethin wrote: “… a plague which cuts off the young, a rootless phantom which has no mercy or fair countenance.”
Smallpox (15th to 17th Century)
The smallpox pandemic lasted from the 15th to the 17th century. Europeans carried diseases to North and South America, beginning in 1520 when a Spanish ship carrying an African slave infected with smallpox arrived in Veracruz, Mexico. In short order, up to 95 percent of the population — as many as 20 million — died on the two continents. Europeans had built up resistance by living cheek by jowl with domestic mammals who carried various germs and diseases like smallpox, influenza and measles when they crossed to humans. But it virtually wiped out the native Americans who had built up no immunity.
Cholera (Peak 1817 to 1823, Still Ongoing)
Cholera has still not been entirely defeated. This disease has produced seven pandemics in the past 200 years, killing millions. The most deadly got its start in India in 1817 near the Ganges River. It killed 10,000 British soldiers and ran amok among the native population. Cholera is caused by food or water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae. While water and sewage treatment plants have made cholera almost unknown in developed countries it still runs rampant in many third-world countries. According to the World Health Organization, cholera infects 1.3 to 4 million each year and 21,000 to 143,000 die.
Spanish Flu H1N1 (1918 to 1919)
As the man-made First World War was nearing its end, a natural disaster awaited in the spring of 1918 – the Spanish Flu hit. The H1N1 refers to the strain of influenza virus. This virus probably did not originate in Spain, but wartime censors kept the news from Western soldiers and civilians so as not to hurt morale. Spain was not in the conflict, so the media there was able to report the grim advance of the pandemic and so it was called the Spanish Flu.
Wherever it began, it was the deadliest flu in modern history, with more than 40 per cent of the world’s population infected and between 20 to 50 million deaths. Extensive studies have been done on the pandemic victims, but researchers are still stumped as to why it was such a lethal strain. However, it did lead to significant advances in public health.
Hong Kong Flu H3N2 (1968 to 1970)
The Hong Kong Flu H3N2 was the third influenza epidemic in the 20th Century, after the Spanish and Asian pandemics. It is thought the Asian flu of 1957 evolved into the Hong Kong flu a decade later. A scant two weeks after the first case in Hong Kong, 500,000 people were infected. Before it was over, it was estimated that between one-and four million individuals died. As medicine and research advanced, the Hong Kong flu led to scientists and doctors realizing the vital role of vaccinations – the annual flu shot recommended today.
HIV / AIDS (1981 to Present)
Since 1981, it is estimated that 75 million have had HIV / AIDS and 32 million have died. World Health Organization figures show that 37.9 million were living with it in 2018. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The latter is considered to be advanced HIV. It is a sexually or intravenously transmitted disease that lowers a body’s immune system, opening the door to disease. While advances have been made in treatment, there is still no definitive cure.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS: 2002 to 2003)
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) started in China and went on to engulf 26 countries and infect 8,000 people. Of those, 774 fell victims to this coronavirus strain. Scientists say the virus is 88 per cent the same as the novel coronavirus Covid-19 that has the world in its grip today.
Swine Flu (2009 to 2010)
Infecting about 60 million in the U.S., the global death toll of the Swine Flu was between 151,000 and 575,400. It is called Swine Flu because the disease is thought to have transferred from pigs to people.
Ebola (Peak 2014 to 2016, Still Ongoing)
Appearing in Guinea and named after a river near the outbreak, the ebola virus wreaked havoc in West Africa, infecting 28,600 and killing 11,325. It is still with us. Between August of 2018 and June 2019, there were more than 2,100 infected in the Democratic Republic of Congo and 1,400 deaths. The World Health Organization has declined to declare Ebola a pandemic on three occasions for unclear reasons. Ebola is a virus that causes blood to clot and leads to potentially fatal internal bleeding.
History demonstrates that mankind will survive the Covid-19 pandemic but there will be a lot of pain on the road to recovery.