The World Has Conquered Pandemics Before

March 13, 2020

Are your parents stocking up on hand sanitizer? Telling you to wash your hands again and again? Keeping an eye out for sniffles? If so, then you’ve probably heard of the coronavirus. COVID-19 might be the first big virus-related disease outbreak that you’ve seen, but diseases spreading across countries have been a part of humankind for a long time. Thankfully most of them have been brought under control, so you might not have even heard of them.

This week, we’re taking a look at two pandemics that have impacted humans across continents. Curious why we are calling them pandemics and not epidemics? Epidemics are usually contained in one region but pandemics are defined as global disease outbreaks. Take a look!

Bubonic Plague

Also dubbed the Black Death, the plague comes from bacteria found on rats or fleas. Passed onto humans and spread throughout Europe in the 1300s, the plague caused black boils, thus earning the name Black Death. Known for attacking the body swiftly, the disease reappeared in the 1600s in London and finally ended its run in 1855 in India and China. The eventual solution of antibiotics helped eliminate the recurrence of the plague pandemic so far.

Image of three men dissecting and examining rats for bubonic plague

Interesting Fact: The origin of the word “quarantine” is said to be from the times of the plague when forty days of isolation was recommended to those coming from plague-affected areas. 

Swine Flu

This might be the most recent pandemic, and as its name suggests, swine flu has something to do with swine (or pigs). The outbreak began around 2009 among pig populations in the United States. Since it was a new type of virus—dubbed H1N1—humans are susceptible to it, and when severe, it can be a deadly flu. The swine flu quickly spread as people traveled throughout different countries, giving it a pandemic status.

Vaccines were eventually developed to control the spread of the H1N1 virus, but not before countries took strong measures that affected the pork industry. This included putting strict measures in place for how many pigs could be kept together in a pig farm.

Interesting Fact: Since the swine flu originated in pigs, the world turned its attention to pigs’ environments, pushing for better sanitation and lesser crowding in farms.

Do your parents or teachers remember any pandemics or epidemics from the past?