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Infectious Diseases That Changed The Course Of History

The Coronavirus Pandemic has uprooted humanity as we know it. It has opened up conversations that were until that moment sealed off or forgotten. Human carelessness is once again a topic that is up for debate. Along with natural disasters infectious diseases are one of the most primary reasons for death and suffering around the world. Some diseases have left their mark on humanity, changing the course of human history in their wake. In some cases, the outbreak of infectious diseases have led to a drastic reduction in the population of that region. In some other cases, an infection on a renowned person led to conversations about the need for a cure, leading to a breakthrough in treating the disease. Either way, history has shown us the deadly nature of infectious diseases. Let’s take a look at some of the worst infectious diseases that changed the course of history.

Infectious Diseases that were deadly

  • Bubonic Plague: The bubonic plague, more famously known as the ‘Black Death’ spread across Europe during the 14th century. The disease is said to have spread through fleas that lived on rats. The plague was the prime example of how human advancement came with a downside, namely the rapid spread of a pathogen. The disease spread rapidly and the mortality rate was extremely high. Europe lost more than 200 million people, cutting the continent’s population by more than half. Historians believe that the disease led to irreparable damage to the economic system in Europe. To this day, the bubonic plague is one of the most gruesome infectious diseases ever to affect humanity.
  • Smallpox: When Europeans first arrived in the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries, they brought advancement with them. But they also brought smallpox, which played a vital role in killing Native Americans. When comparing it with other Old World diseases like flu and measles, smallpox ended up killing more than 90 percent of the Native American population. It was a vicious deforming agent, leaving infected people with terrible sores on their bodies. Several centuries later, smallpox is only one of two diseases to be eradicated due to vaccination efforts, the other being rinderpest.
  • Spanish Influenza: The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was causes by one of the most dangerous pathogens in the 20th century, infecting more than 500 million people worldwide. Outbreaks in the United States and Europe soon spread around the world and soon it became one of the most feared infectious diseases of the time. It gained the moniker ‘Spanish Influenza’ as the first country to report the disease was Spain. Even the Spanish King, Alfonso XIII contracted it. The disease had a notable effect on the 1st World War’s battlefields as it infected a number young, healthy individuals. Records also suggest that more people in USA died from the disease than from the war. A number of servicemen in the US Navy contracted the flu and almost the same number of people from the Army were afflicted as well. A vaccine was developed in the 1940s.
  • Polio: Today, polio is extremely rare with very few cases being reported especially since Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. Before the vaccine was developed, the disease was transmitted through an infected person’s stool or droplets when they sneezed. The disease does not have notable symptoms. Polio is notorious for causing paralysis in its victims, making them live their lives in artificial lungs. The most famous case of polio paralysis is former US President Franklin D Roosevelt. His efforts to fight the stigma caused by the disease was one of his major goals throughout his long presidency. Ultimately, this changed the stigma associated with the disease.
  • HIV/AIDS: Very few infectious diseases in modern times have carried the stigma that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has. Virologists and scientists were of the belief that the virus crossed from primates to humans in Africa during the 20th century. Yet the disease gained traction in the 1980s when young men began contracting the disease causing fear and stigma to rise. It wasn’t until several NGOs and other organizations had awareness programs continuously that the disease stopped being viewed with fear. Today the disease is no longer viewed with fear as it once was.

Infectious Diseases that once scared people

With the Coronavirus pandemic spreading fear and panic among people, discussions on infectious diseases that changed the course of history has been rampant. Comparisons have been drawn to the Spanish Flu and the Plague which uprooted society as a whole. One hopes that like these infectious diseases, Coronavirus will also be a thing of the past.

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