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Epidemics 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.

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