Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us there’s nothing new under the sun. And when this Bible verse says “nothing,” it means nothing. Not even pandemics. The world may currently be having an uncomfortable and scary confrontation with a “novel” coronavirus, but people having to deal with pandemics is a recurring story throughout the history of mankind.
You do know what a pandemic is, right? The WHO, Worldwide Health Organization and not the band, defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease. And the disease must be infectious for it to constitute a pandemic. WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Clearly coronavirus is infectious since we must practice social distancing, refrain from gathering in large groups, wear face masks, and constantly wash our hands.
As bad as coronavirus may be, it isn’t the worst pandemic to inflict the world. Ever heard of the Bubonic Plague, also known as The Black Death? That pandemic, which ravaged the world’s population with a mortality rate between 30% and 75%, is believed to be the deadliest one in history.
The total number of deaths from the Bubonic Plague is estimated to have been around 75 million, with 25-30 million of these deaths occurring in Europe.That’s a huge number of people to have been covered in black boils oozing blood and pus. Yuk! Approximately one-third of the European population died during the Bubonic Plague, and it took 200 years after this pandemic for the European population to recover to its previous level.
Not only did The Black Death strike people, but animals were affected by the disease too. So many sheep died from the Bubonic Plague that there was a European wool shortage. That’s a BAA-d fix to be in!
Similar to the coronavirus, the Bubonic Plague is thought to have originated in Asia. It struck China, India, Persia, Syria, and Egypt in the early 1340’s. From there it traveled along the Silk Road to the Crimean Peninsula and then on to the Mediterranean basin aboard merchant ships.
The Bubonic Plague arrived in Europe in October 1347 when twelve ships from the Black Sea docked in Messina. Most of the sailors on the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They suffered from buboes (hence the name Bubonic), painful lymph node swellings which probably made them wish they were dead if they weren’t yet.
Because of ship transportation and some unsanitary practices, The Black Death rapidly spread through the world. In a Crimean port, a literally DEADly weapon was utilized by the Mongol army who undertook a lengthy siege of the city of Kaffa. Numerous members of the ranks were suffering from the disease. Whey they succumbed to it, their fellow soldiers catapulted their corpses over the walls to infect the besieged city’s inhabitants. Even after death, these fighting men still served their country.
The Black Death finally ran its course in the early 1350’s. Nevertheless, the plague continued to strike Europe and beyond for the next 400 years. It reared its ugly head every 10-20 years.
Pandemics have also wreaked havoc in more modern times. Approximately one-third of the world’s population was infected during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-1920, and anywhere between 17 and 50 million people died. This pandemic, which occurred during World War I, got its name as a result of news censorship. In an effort to maintain wartime morale, reports about illness and deaths from the flu in the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany were minimized; nevertheless, Spain was neutral, and reports of the epidemic’s effects in that country were widely publicized. As a result, the outbreak was referred to as the Spanish flu since it mistakenly seemed Spain was the worst hit country. Perhaps fake news has a lengthy history as well as pandemics.
Two other types of flu led to pandemics during the last few decades. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-1969 resulted in around 1 million deaths worldwide, including approximately 34,000 here in the United States. Less deadly was the swine flu (H1N1/09) pandemic of 2009-2010. About half a million died worldwide from this flu with some 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the U.S. Happily, the number of deaths from each of these pandemics was far less than from The Black Death; the more recent pandemics’ names are also less frightening.
Numerous other pandemics have occurred during the history of mankind. Those outbreaks involved smallpox and tuberculosis, among other diseases. But regardless of the type of disease, the results were similar–widespread suffering and loss of life.
Right now the coronavirus pandemic is dominating the news, our thoughts, and people’s daily lives. Despite how novel the situation is to us, fighting a pandemic is nothing new. Mankind has been there and done that again and again.
Yes, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruptions in our world. The Summer Olympic Games, which were supposed to start in Tokyo on July 24th, have been postponed. The pandemic has also threatened everyone, not just the common man. Politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and the heir to the British throne, 71 year old Prince Charles, have tested positive for coronavirus.
But the death toll from the coronavirus to date pales in comparison to past pandemics. As of March 25, 2020, there were 20,912 deaths. While any loss of life due to disease is tragic, this number of fatalities is nowhere close to past pandemics such as The Black Plague and the Spanish flu. History is repeating itself with widespread disease, but current numbers of lives lost are lower than in the past.
Since history is a required school subject, there must be something to be gained from studying it. What history teaches us about pandemics is that humans are resilient. Bad things come their way, but humans take a licking and still keep on ticking as a race. Let’s not let the pandemic get us down. Based on past experience, most of us will survive and the human race will continue in existence. It will be around to see that next pandemic which will invariably occur at some future point. Why? Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that history repeats itself.
Were you aware of the magnitude of deaths in past pandemics? In light of those death tolls, do you still view the current coronavirus pandemic in the same way? What, if anything, should be done to prevent future pandemics?