Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pandemics through world history

From the symptoms scattered throughout the script, the disease that kills people in Killing Game would appear to be the bubonic plague. But there have been many deadly pandemics in recorded history. The sheer numbers dead are staggering - thousands per day, in some cases. Read on for some colorful facts sure to break the ice and win you some new friends at your next cocktail party:

Peloponnesian War, 430 BC.
Typhoid fever killed a quarter of the Athenian troops and a quarter of the population over four years. This disease fatally weakened the dominance of Athens, but the sheer virulence of the disease prevented its wider spread; i.e. it killed off its hosts at a rate faster than they could spread it. The exact cause of the plague was unknown for many years; in January 2006, researchers from the University of Athens analyzed teeth recovered from a mass grave underneath the city, and confirmed the presence of bacteria responsible for typhoid.

Antonine Plague, 165–180.
Possibly smallpox brought back from the Near East; killed a quarter of those infected and up to five million in all. At the height of a second outbreak (251–266) 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome.

Plague of Justinian, started 541.
The first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague. It started in Egypt and reached Constantinople the following spring, killing (according to the Byzantine chronicler Procopius) 10,000 a day at its height and perhaps 40 percent of the city's inhabitants. It went on to eliminate up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Black Death, started 1300s.
Eight hundred years after the last outbreak, the bubonic plague returned to Europe. Starting in Asia, the disease reached Mediterranean and western Europe in 1348 (possibly from Italian merchants fleeing fighting in the Crimea), and killed twenty million Europeans in six years, a quarter of the total population and up to a half in the worst-affected urban areas.

first pandemic 1816–1826. Previously restricted to the Indian subcontinent, the pandemic began in Bengal, then spread across India by 1820. It extended as far as China and the Caspian Sea before receding.
The second pandemic (1829–1851) reached Europe, London in 1832, Ontario Canada and New York in the same year, and the Pacific coast of North America by 1834.
The third pandemic (1852–1860) mainly affected Russia, with over a million deaths. (Where it had killed Peter Tchaikovsky and his mother.)
The fourth pandemic (1863–1875) spread mostly in Europe and Africa.
In 1866 there was an outbreak in North America.
In 1892 cholera contaminated the water supply of Hamburg, Germany, and caused 8,606 deaths.
The seventh pandemic (1899–1923) had little effect in Europe because of advances in public health, but Russia was badly affected again.
The eighth pandemic began in Indonesia in 1961, called El Tor after the strain, and reached Bangladesh in 1963, India in 1964, and the USSR in 1966.
The "first" pandemic of 1510 travelled from Africa and spread across Europe.

The "Asiatic Flu", 1889–1890.
Was first reported in May of 1889 in Bukhara, Russia. By October, it had reached Tomsk and the Caucasus. It rapidly spread west and hit North America in December 1889, South America in February–April 1890, India in February-March 1890, and Australia in March–April 1890. It was purportedly caused by the H2N8 type of flu virus and had a very high attack and mortality rate.

The "Spanish flu", 1918–1919.
First identified early March 1918 in US troops training at Camp Funston, Kansas, by October 1918 it had spread to become a world-wide pandemic on all continents. Unusually deadly and virulent, it ended nearly as quickly as it began, vanishing completely within 18 months. In six months, 25 million were dead; some estimates put the total of those killed worldwide at over twice that number. An estimated 17 million died in India, 500,000 in the United States and 200,000 in the UK. The virus was recently reconstructed by scientists at the CDC studying remains preserved by the Alaskan permafrost. They identified it as a type of H1N1 virus.

The "Asian Flu", 1957–58.
An H2N2 caused about 70,000 deaths in the United States. First identified in China in late February 1957, the Asian flu spread to the United States by June 1957.

The "Hong Kong Flu", 1968–69.
An H3N2 caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses still circulate today.

Sometimes called "camp fever" because of its pattern of flaring up in times of strife. (It is also known as "gaol fever" and "ship fever", for its habits of spreading wildly in cramped quarters, such as jails and ships.) Emerging during the Crusades, it had its first impact in Europe in 1489 in Spain. During fighting between the Christian Spaniards and the Muslims in Granada, the Spanish lost 3,000 to war casualties and 20,000 to typhus. In 1528 the French lost 18,000 troops in Italy and lost supremacy in Italy to the Spanish. In 1542, 30,000 people died of typhus while fighting the Ottomans in the Balkans. The disease also played a major role in the destruction of Napoleon's Grande Armée in Russia in 1812. Typhus also killed numerous prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Effects of Colonization.
Encounters between European explorers and populations in the rest of the world often introduced local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. Disease killed the entire native (Guanches) population of the Canary Islands in the 16th century. Half the native population of Hispaniola in 1518 was killed by smallpox. Smallpox also ravaged Mexico in the 1520s, killing 150,000 in Tenochtitlán alone, including the emperor, and Peru in the 1530s, aiding the European conquerors. Measles killed a further two million Mexican natives in the 1600s. As late as 1848–49, as many as 40,000 out of 150,000 Hawaiians are estimated to have died of measles, whooping cough and influenza.

There are also a number of unknown diseases that were extremely serious but have now vanished, so the etiology of these diseases cannot be established. The cause of English Sweat in 16th-century England, which struck people down in an instant and was more greatly feared even than the bubonic plague, is still unknown.

Source: Wikipedia


Mark Yzaguirre said...

If you want to read a good short book about the Black Death, read "In the Wake of the Plague" by Norman Cantor. It is a great discussion of how the Plague transformed Western Civilization. He discusses discoveries and intellectual life going on at the time that were wiped out by the Plague, basically setting back advances until the Renaissance and early modern era that were on the cusp of coming out then, and also mundane facts like how real wages went up and aristocratic real estate prices dropped due to the loss of serf labor and taxes. It also mentions some alternative theories about why the Black Death was so virulent, including evidence that a simultaneous anthrax epidemic was happening when the Plague hit. I'd put it on the IBP reading list.

Lisa Haymes said...

Sounds very cool! Christmas is all about disease, death and decay for me this year, so this is definitely going on my reading list.