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Diseases and Plagues

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Throughout the history of man, epidemics and plagues have been in the group of the many selective forces that act on the human species. It has often been said that the course of history has been greatly determined by battles, not just in war but among competing ideas. But the influence of diseases on history can not be ignored. Records of the world’s history have described how parasites, bacteria, and viruses swept through the world’s cities and caused devastation to many populations, brought down many great leaders and thinkers, and in doing so, transformed politics, public health and economics. This essay is going to look at the history of diseases in the world and also show how their threat is affecting the world today.

There are many diseases and plagues that have occurred over the years, some have so far been eliminated with discoveries in medicine but others still persist to today. The many number of these diseases means that one can not really address all of them in a single paper, therefore in this paper we will look at the some of the major diseases in history.

Bubonic Plague

This was a plague that was heavily felt in Europe where almost half of Western Europe’s population died. The black was also called the Black Death because of the fact that the skin of those infected acquiring a dark grey color. It is said that the plague began in Gobi Desert in China where it claimed about 35 million Asians. When European sailors travelled back home from Asia, returned with rats infected with the disease. Fleas living on the blood of the rats then transferred the disease to the people of Europe. To stop the spread of the disease, the Europeans came up with an isolation strategy called quarantine where infected or potentially infected persons were isolated from others as a way to stem its spread. Parallels have been drawn between bubonic plague in ancient times and the present day HIV/AIDS. It has been shown that fear and ignorance, prejudice, anxiety, isolation and panic have been experienced in both the epidemics; this has resulted in a poor understanding of the nature of the disease. Bubonic plague still exists and is common among rodents.

Influenza

Flu has had wide spread effects on the number of deaths in today’s world when compared to other diseases. Influenza remains a major threat the world over despite the fact that there are vaccines against it. It is this disease that influenced the course of World War I by making soldiers sick and eventually killing them and at the same time put a strain on military healthcare of the time. Notable records can only be accounted for from the 20th century, what is sure though is that the disease occurs every 30 to 40 years. Over the years there have been many strains of the virus the recent one being the avian flu, H1N1.

Smallpox

It has not been clearly confirmed as to what was the origin of smallpox although many believe that it originated from Africa from where it spread to India and China centuries ago. The first recorded account of the disease was in 1350 BC at the time of the Egyptian Hittite war. This disease reached Europe between the 5th and 7th centuries but became persistent in major cities in the 18th century. In the North American colonies, epidemics occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. Records have shown that this disease become at one poit, a serious concern for all countries in the world, except Australia and a few islands. Many people died and as a result initiative to find a lasting solution to it began. Observations that those who survived from the disease could not be re-infected paved the way for its vaccines. And so far it is the only disease that has been completely eradicated throughout the world.

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is regarded to have originated from West Africa, although the first recorded outbreaks were experienced in central and coastal South America just after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The 300 years that followed saw the diseases given many names such as yellow jack, the Saffron scourge and many others. It was one of the great plagues of the world; many regions were subjected to devastating epidemics where serious outbreaks occurred. The disease has never been eradicated as it is borne by mosquitoes.

Cholera

Cholera is also a disease that has killed many people since it emerged out of the dirty water and filthy living conditions of Calcutta India early in 1800. From then there have occurred eight cholera pandemics.  A cholera pandemic is an epidemic that can last for many years spreading to many countries, across, continents and oceans. The first cholera outbreak spread from India to South East Asia, Middle East and Russia killing many people in its wake. The recent numbers of cholera deaths are still high although they can not be compared to those in the pandemics of 1800. The decrease in deaths has been due to medical advances made so far.

Syphilis

Syphilis is caused by the corkscrew shaped bacteria called Treponema Pallidum. It is a disease that has been written about, debated over, and has affected many cultures it has come in contact with. The first syphilis epidemic occurred at the end of the 15th century in Europe. At the time blames were placed on travelers, prostitutes and even soldiers. For many years, syphilis and gonorrhea were taken to be the same. It is in the 19th century that a French scientist Phillipe Ricord discovered that the two were different. It is basically a sexually transmitted disease. It is believed to have been named syphilis by an Italian poet named Girolamo Fracastoro. In the 16th century the disease was also called a great pox to distinguish it from smallpox.

Tuberculosis

Its history goes back many years, a period in which it has been a major killer. It has been known under many names in the course of its history. It is a difficult disease to diagnose and many have confused it with other diseases. The name tuberculosis was introduced in the first half of the 19th century and it basically refers to a diseased condition caused by infectious agents that are known as tuberculosis bacteria or tubercle bacilli. The other names it was called are phthisis, Scrofula, Tabes, Bronchitis and many others. Many attempts were made to cure it to no avail making people to believe that it was a punishment from God. The first breakthrough came in 1882 by a German bacteriologist and since many discoveries were made leading to development of its vaccine.

Hemophilia and porphyria

These are genetic blood disorders that have serious effects on people. For instance it serious affected the crowned heads of Europe. It is believed that the rise of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco can be traced to a lack of a heir to the throne because of hemophilia. . The collapse of the Romanov dynasty in Russia is also attributed to hemophilia in the family. Many British monarchs could not manage their kingdoms because of these disorders. Porphyria can cause mental illnesses that affect people’s lives.

Potato blight

This occurred in the 1800s were it destroyed the staple food for the Irish people. This shows that diseases do not just affect humans but also what humans eat. This disease brought about a major famine that saw many Irish people migrate to America. It was discovered that the blight was caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans whose cure was discovered in 1882 some 40 years after the famine.

HIV/AIDS

This is a disease that is the headache to many scientists today.  Its timeline began in 1981 whereby an outbreak of a rare form of cancer was reported in the New York Times among gay men in New York and California it was later identified as Kaposi’s sarcoma and later HIV/AIDS. This was just the beginning of what is now the biggest concern of health care in modern times. It has been 30 years now but the disease continues to plague many societies.  It may be said that the disease has just been around for 30 years but it is believed that this syndrome has been in the world longer than its thought. Examination of blood samples from a man who died in Africa in 1959 from a mysterious death show that he actually died from complications similar to those of HIV. Many attempts to find its cure have been made. Just last year scientists from the University of Northern Carolina announced that they had decoded the structure of the HIV genome. How this will help in the fight of this deadly disease still remains to be seen.

Conclusion

The history of diseases has been a along one, and the way people have been affected is more or less the same. People still experience fear and ignorance, prejudice, anxiety, isolation and panic just as it happened thousands of years ago. What is important though is that the more people know about these diseases, the better they can fight their effects, this is the advantage that the present day people have over those in the medieval times.

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