surprising facts about pandemics past and present

1/26 SLIDES © Dublin Heritage Park & Museum

Surprising facts about pandemics past and present

Although COVID-19 is the largest global pandemic of the 21st century, pandemics have been part of the human experience for thousands of years. Let’s take a look at some previous pandemics, what we’ve learned from them and what marks they’ve left on our culture. Practices from hundreds of years ago might seem surprisingly familiar. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

2/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

History’s largest pandemic was caused by fleas

The Black Death was a bubonic plague pandemic that swept from Asia across Europe from 1347 to the early 1350s, killing more than 20 million people in Europe alone, almost one-third of the continent’s population. At the time, people believed that disease was caused by divine punishment, misalignment of the planets, or “foul air.” Centuries later, researchers found that a bacterium, Yersinia pestis, was responsible, most likely spread by fleas.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

3/26 SLIDES © National Library of France

Black Death survivors threw wild parties

If the current pandemic has made you fantasize about going on a massive bender, you’re in good company. Throughout the Black Death, survivors, and people who were unknowingly at risk for the disease, threw wild parties. “They were a noise complaint in a suburban newspaper, the neighbors you hear screaming to the blaring bass-heavy beats until 4 a.m..,” classical radio station WQXR reports. “Partygoers could walk into any house and claim it as theirs because people no longer were concerned with property rights.”

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

4/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

Our ancestors were used to this

While the idea of introducing, relaxing and then periodically reinstating social distancing measures during a pandemic may be strange and scary to us, our ancestors were used to it. After the initial 1346 outbreak, plague kept popping up here and there in Europe for at least another 300 years. In William Shakespeare’s time, plays and other mass gatherings would be periodically banned for months at a time to stop the spread of disease. According to The Guardian, Macbeth may have been written during an epidemic in 1606.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

Slideshow continues on the next slide

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

5/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

The “Spanish flu” probably began in Kansas

The influenza pandemic that infected about one-third of the world’s population and killed tens of millions of people between 1918 and 1920 is known around the world as the Spanish flu. In fact, it’s thought to have originated in western Kansas and spread around the world as soldiers left for, and returned from, the First World War. “During World War I, Spain was a neutral country with a free media that covered the outbreak from the start,” the History Channel explains. “Because Spanish news sources were the only ones reporting on the flu, many believed it originated there. The Spanish, meanwhile, believed the virus came from France and called it the ‘French Flu.’”

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

6/26 SLIDES © Everett Collection / Shutterstock

A 1957 pandemic killed 116,000 Americans

Other than the 1918 flu pandemic, North America has experienced two other devastating flu pandemics well within living memory. The 1957 “Asian flu” killed 1.1 million people worldwide and 116,000 in the United States. A decade later, in 1968, another avian flu strain known as the “Hong Kong flu” killed between 1 and 4 million people worldwide.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

7/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

HIV first spread in chimps

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that three out of four new diseases in humans first develop in animals, mutating over time to attack humans instead of birds, bats or monkeys. Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is no different. The virus is believed to have made the leap to humans in the early 20th century when hunters in central Africa came into contact with the blood of chimps infected with simian immunodeficiency virus. However, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the disease caused by the virus, only became a global pandemic with the rise of international air travel, in the 1960s and 1970s.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

8/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

Citizen scientists played a huge role in AIDS research

By 1987, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the disease caused by the HIV virus, had killed at least 40,000 people in the United States alone, mostly in the LGBT community. Citizens’ group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) lobbied the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to rework and speed up drug trials. David France, author of an acclaimed book on the AIDS crisis, says while scientists would have eventually found the treatments that controlled AIDS, there’s “no question” that angry, committed citizens made it happen sooner.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

9/26 SLIDES © AP Photo / Eric Risberg

Two people in the world are known to be cured of AIDS

Although the first antiretroviral drugs—treatments that controlled AIDS—were introduced in 1995, the disease is still generally considered incurable. However, two people, including Timothy Brown, known as the Berlin Patient (pictured), are believed to have been cured of the virus after undergoing stem cell transplants to treat blood conditions. Researchers have said that the transplants are too risky and invasive to “cure” the disease in a large number of patients.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

Slideshow continues on the next slide

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

10/26 SLIDES © Wikimedia Commons

Quarantine was invented during the Black Death

Although people in the 1300s had no real scientific understanding of what caused disease, by 1347 some forward-thinking Italians had realized it was somehow connected to person-to-person contact. Sailors arriving in the Sicilian port of Ragusa (pictured) were held on board their ships for 30 days, and the period was later increased to 40 days. Known as the quarantino in Italian, this 40-day mandatory isolation gave rise to modern quarantine methods.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

11/26 SLIDES © Wikimedia commons

Cats and dogs were blamed for spreading plague

In England in the 1500s, cats and dogs were believed to carry the disease, so they were slaughtered en masse. “Ironically, these animals could have assisted in reducing the rat population,” Londonist magazine observes. It was estimated that 200,000 cats and 40,000 dogs were killed in London in an attempt to beat back the catastrophic 1665 outbreak.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

12/26 SLIDES © Wikimedia commons

Medieval pandemic management

Some of the methods used to prevent the spread of plague sound familiar to anyone living through COVID-19. In addition to “closure of public places like theatres and dancing-houses,” authorities ordered people who were known to be infected and anyone who lived with them to stay in their homes, sometimes forcibly shutting them inside. According to the BBC history portal, “people refused to touch other people.” People were also worried about catching the disease by handling money; they obviously couldn’t pay with debit, so they tossed coins into jars of vinegar instead.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

13/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

Cures and charms

Medieval doctors tried a variety of methods to treat, cure or prevent the plague. Mustard, mint sauce, applesauce and horseradish were used to “balance wet, dry, hot and cold” in patients’ diets, a practice based on ancient Greek theories. Desperate people tried carrying lucky rabbits’ feet, whipping themselves, drinking vinegar or 10-year-old molasses, eating crushed minerals (including arsenic), or rubbing chopped snake, chopped pigeon or a plucked chicken on infected sores.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

14/26 SLIDES © McKay Savage / Wikimedia Commons

European warfare didn’t conquer the Americas—European germs did

When European explorers first arrived in the Americas, they brought invisible and fatal cargo, namely smallpox. Indigenous people in the Americas had no exposure to the disease, which swept on ahead of the invading Europeans, laying waste to the Inca civilization of Peru before the Spanish conquistadors even reached the area. By some estimates, smallpox and other imported diseases killed up to 90 per cent of the Indigenous population.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

Slideshow continues on the next slide

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

15/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

Migrants have always been scapegoated during pandemics

In the U.S. and Canada, reports have surfaced of people harassing Asians and Jews, accusing them of causing the COVID-19 pandemic. In India, Muslims have been harassed; in China, Africans have been evicted from student housing and faced “increased scrutiny,” according to the BBC. In the 1300s in plague-stricken England, there were “violent attacks on Flemish merchants and weavers,” and Jewish settlements were burned. “People attacked outsiders for no other reason than that they were different,” The Guardian explains.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

16/26 SLIDES © AP Photo / Alexander Joe

Bubonic plague still exists today

The last major plague outbreak in Europe effectively ended in 1666. However, the disease is still around. It most recently resurfaced in 2017, when 2,000 cases were reported in a three-month span in Madagascar. Authorities tracked down 7,000 people who had come into contact with known patients, about 9,300 people received antibiotic treatment and a wider disaster was averted. Plague can now be treated with antibiotics, and better hygiene makes it less likely that fleas will stick around on human skin. In the United States, about seven cases are reported annually.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

17/26 SLIDES © AP Photo

Woodstock was held during a forgotten pandemic

The 1968 flu pandemic has been “largely forgotten” in a decade that included the Vietnam War and some of the most nerve-wracking episodes of the Cold War. “There were no social distancing recommendations from the government, closures of public spaces or mandatory business closings in either [the 1957 or the 1968] pandemics,” medical historian Jacob Steere-Williams tells Sarasota magazine. Large events such as Woodstock still went forward. The 1968 flu first struck Wuhan—the same city initially hit hard by the coronavirus—before “racing across the globe on commercial flights and ships,” killing 60,000 people in Germany and “disabling” half of France’s workforce.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

18/26 SLIDES © Wikimedia commons

Europe’s first plague scared people so much that they left home with name tags

During the Justinianic plague, which killed up to 50 million people in Asia, Europe and North Africa, fear ran rampant and “thousands of bodies piled up in mass graves” in places like Constantinople. According to NPR, when people left the house during outbreaks, they often did so with name tags on, “so they could be identified if they suddenly collapsed.”

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

19/26 SLIDES © Dublin Heritage Park & Museum

Pandemic pet masks

During the 1918 flu pandemic, like today, masks were mandatory in some American cities. “Photos from the time show people going to and fro, their faces swathed in gauze,” according to Atlas Obscura. Some politicians were concerned pets might spread the disease, and called for cat and dog culls. Others took a more humane approach and gave their furry friends masks. Some concerned cat owners in China have started masking their cats during COVID-19.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

20/26 SLIDES © Media / Medical / UIG / Shutterstock

Cholera crackdown helped spark the Russian Revolution

Cholera is caused by a bacterium (pictured) spread by dirty water. When the second great cholera pandemic reached Russia in the early 1830s, Tsar Nicholas I established a strict quarantine system. Health officials, however, made the situation worse by “indiscriminately throwing together” cholera patients and patients with other illnesses, and rumours spread that doctors were trying to kill off the sick. Riots broke out—riots which would become a regular feature of cholera outbreaks. Decades later, during the fifth pandemic, riots were violently suppressed by the authorities. At least one researcher says this social unrest indirectly set the stage for the Russian Revolution, in 1917.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

21/26 SLIDES © Shutterstock

The truth in the tooth

The Justinianic Plague ended nearly 1,500 years ago, but the genetic code of the bacterium that caused it lives on, in its victims’ teeth. Researchers at Northern Arizona University extracted bacterial DNA from blood found in the preserved dental pulp of victims’ teeth at a mass grave in Germany, and were able to trace the origin of the bacterium to China. “The biology of the pathogen no doubt could cause another pandemic if it weren't for the changes in human culture and medicine,” researcher Paul Keim tells NPR. Fortunately, modern-day plague outbreaks can be controlled by antibiotics and contact tracing.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

22/26 SLIDES © Wikimedia commons

The beaked carnival mask has its origins in early PPE

The beaked mask popular at European carnivals has its origins in an early attempt at personal protective equipment. During one of the last European plague outbreaks in the 1600s, French physician Charles de Lorme popularized a protective uniform for doctors. “It consisted of a thick black overcoat, gloves, circular glass to seal the eyes behind the mask, and often a wand, to inspect patients from a distance,” according to Atlas Obscura. There was also a beaked mask. Doctors, believing the disease was spread by “foul air,” would stuff the beak with herbs like peppermint to keep the stench away, and the “plague doctor” image was born. Unfortunately, the masks, while distinctive, weren’t very effective.

surprising facts about pandemics past and present

23/26 SLIDES © Wikimedia Commons

Plague likely contributed to the fall of Rome

The Roman Empire was never quite the same after the Justinianic Plague burned its way through Roman territory. Justinian himself caught the plague and survived, but he struggled to recruit and pay soldiers after the plague, and territories that his armies had conquered rose up in revolt. By the time the plague finally burned itself out completely, in AD 750, a new world order had arisen. “Was the pestilence partially responsible?” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert speculates in The New Yorker. “If so, history is written not only by men but also by microbes.”

Internet Explorer Channel Network


NEWS RELATED

Who are Bill and Melinda Gates' children and how are they caught up in their parents' high-profile divorce?

© Local gatesfamily At first, it seemed so civil. When Bill and Melinda Gates announced their surprise divorce two weeks ago, they kept the reasons vague and (publicly) harmonious. “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple,” they said in identical statements, confirming they would still work…

Read more: Who are Bill and Melinda Gates' children and how are they caught up in their parents' high-profile divorce?

Heat pump grants: Key questions answered

© Provided by Evening Standard A heat pump at installation test site for Octopus Energy (Octopus Energy/PA) UK households are being offered £5,000 grants to replace gas boilers with low carbon technologies as part of efforts to cut emissions from heating. Here are some answers to the key questions about…

Read more: Heat pump grants: Key questions answered

Xpeng-backed flying car startup raises $500 mln

The logo on an XPeng Inc. P7 performance electric vehicle is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar BEIJING, Oct 19 (Reuters) – HT Aero, a flying car startup backed by Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Inc (9868.HK), said on Tuesday…

Read more: Xpeng-backed flying car startup raises $500 mln

Eye scan for diabetes! Berkshire startup is developing revolutionary medical technology with £2.85M funding

The repetitive finger stick blood testing with all the pain, discomfort and inconvenience that brings for people suffering from diabetes might become a thing of the past very soon. A ground-breaking device that will allow the 4.7 million people in the UK with diabetes to monitor their blood-sugar levels through…

Read more: Eye scan for diabetes! Berkshire startup is developing revolutionary medical technology with £2.85M funding

China opens VPN services to foreign investment in Beijing

The municipal government of Beijing has won the green light from China’s cabinet to allow up to 50 per cent of foreign ownership in virtual private network (VPN) services, widely used by multinational corporations operating in the country to skirt the Great Firewall and connect to overseas servers. The policy…

Read more: China opens VPN services to foreign investment in Beijing

Chinese users' feelings mixed about LinkedIn pulling out: Report

For nearly seven years, LinkedIn has been the only major Western social networking platform still operating in China. People like 32-year-old Jason Liu view it as an important career enhancing tool.Come the end of the year, Liu will no longer have access to the localised version of LinkedIn, after Microsoft,…

Read more: Chinese users' feelings mixed about LinkedIn pulling out: Report

Fintech firm CRED valued at $4 billion in new funding round

India’s CRED said on Tuesday it had raised $251 million in a new funding round led by existing investors and private equity firms Tiger Global and Falconedge, valuing the fintech company at $4.01 billion.“Two new investors – Marshall Wace and Steadfast – joined the cap table. DST Global, Insight Partners,…

Read more: Fintech firm CRED valued at $4 billion in new funding round

Technology best way to achieve climate target: Australia PM

A net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 would be a “great positive” for Australia if it can be achieved through technology and not a carbon price, the prime minister Scott Morrison said as he pressures government colleagues to commit to more ambitious climate change action ahead of the Glasgow…

Read more: Technology best way to achieve climate target: Australia PM

Apple may not be over with product launches for 2021, may launch this audio product next month

Boris Johnson addresses global investment summit - live updates

Politics latest news: Replacing gas boilers with heat pumps will be compulsory in long-term, suggests minister

Government unveils 2030 net zero strategy ahead of Cop26

Want to connect an Xbox controller to your iPhone? Here's how to do it

Printer stops scanning because no ink, customer sues Canon for $5 million

Dongle Raj over? Apple is finally giving MacBook Pro ports it deserves

Apple to release macOS Monterey as free update on October 25; Check eligible Mac devices, top features

OTHER NEWS