What is a Pandemic?
Pandemic (Greek: pan - all + demos - people)
It is the outbreak of an epidemic (an infectious disease) that spreads worldwide, or at least across a large region. The disease is usually new to the population when it emerges.
Pandemics are infectious and spread easily from person to person. A disease like cancer, though it kills a large number of people, is not a pandemic for this reason.
Pandemics in history were typically zoonoses that come about with the domestication of animals, such as tuberculosis and influenza.
Pandemics of the Past
Peloponnesian War, 430 BC. Tyhoid fever
It killed a quarter of the Athenian troops and a quarter of the population over four years. The extreme virulence of the disease prevented it from spreading to other places because it killed off its hosts faster than they could spread it. Most people died by the seventh or eigth day. Of those who did survive, they often lost toes, fingers, sight, or even their memory.
Antonine Plague, 165 - 180 AD
The disease was brought from the Near East by the Roman troops. It killed an estimated five million people and a quarter of those that it infected. There was a second outbreak 251 - 266 where 5,000 people were dying a day in Rome.
Galen, the Greek physician, recorded symptoms of the disease in which he described fever, diarrhoea, inflammation of the pharynx, and dry or postular eruptions of the skin after nine days. These symptoms have led scholars to conclude that the disease was smallpox.
Plague of Justinian, 541 - 542 , 588 AD
This was the first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague. The disease first appeared in Egypt and reached Constantinople the next spring via ships carrying disease-ridden fleas on ship-borne rats. It is said to have killed 10,000 people a day at its peak and maybe 40% of the city's population. The disease wiped out a quarter of the eastern Mediterranean population.
A second outbreak occured in 588. This time it spread into France and had a final death toll of 25 million.
The Black Death, started 1300s
The bubonic plague returned eight hundred years later in Europe. It began in Asia and spread to the Mediterranean where it then traveled to western Europe by 1348 via the ships of Italian merchants. The names Black Death was given to it because peple suffered hemmorrhaging under the skin which left their skin black. The disease killed a quarter of Europe's population - an estimated 25 million- from 1347 to 1350.
There were similar bubonic plague outbreaks occuring in Asia and the Middle East, which indicated a global pandemic. People fled its path but ended up spreading the disease instead of escaping it.
Cholera, 1816-1826 , 1829-1851 , 1852-1860 , 1863-1875 , 1899-1923 , 1961-1966
Having been around since at least the 16th century, it was not until 1816 that the disease went global. It was originally in India, but it spread along trade routes to Russia and Eastern Europe. Once there it shifted to Western Europe and North America. The disease was worst in cities where poor sanitation drove its spreading. The world has seen seven cholera outbreaks with the last starting in Indonesia in 1961 before spreading to Bangladesh, India, and the USSR.
Spanish Influenza, 1918 - 1919
The disease was the first and worst of the three flu pandemics of the 20th century. It began in three locations -Brest, in France; Boston in the US; and Freetown in Sierra Leone. It was unusually deadly and virulent, had an extremely high mortality rate, and it typically infected people between 20 and 40. It moved around the world quickly killing 25 million people in six months. a fifth of the global population was infected. The disease disappeared just as quickly, vanishing within eighteen months, but it had killed over 40 million.
It was reconstructed at the CDC by scientists studying remains preserved in the Alsakan permafrost. It was identified as a type of H1N1 virus that probably originated in birds.
Possible Pandemics of the Future
HiV - the virus the causes AIDS; It would have to become a constantly evolving disease.
SARS - a new, highly contagious form of pneumonia
Avian Flu - The avian influenza virus would have to combine with a human influenza virus to create a subtype that could be highly contagious and highly lethal in humans.
Ebola virus, Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever - all are highly contagious and deadly diseases; They are often so virulent that it llimits their transmission.
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