Written by Stuti Kathuria, a grade 9 student
Plagues and several diseases have had a significant role in our history, and they have taken many forms. In this article, we will be discussing some of the significant pandemics and epidemics our people have faced throughout time, going as far back as 165 A.D, and how they affected the Earth’s expansion and well-being.
The Antonine Plague (165-190 A.D.)
When the Roman soldiers returned to the Roman Empire after their victory, they brought along with them a deadly virus that is now referred to as smallpox or measles. This disease also came to be known as the Plague of Galen, named after the physician who studied it. The plague had paused after the winter of 180 A.D, but it broke out again after nine years in 189 A.D., causing up to 2000 deaths a day in Rome. This disease consumed the lives of about one-third of the Roman population and distressed the Roman army. This epidemic also had drastic socio-economic as well as political effects on the Roman empire. The historian William H. Mcneill has stated that the Antonine plague and the later Plague of Cyprian (circa 251-270 A.D) were both outbreaks of smallpox and measles, not particularly in that order. The aftermath of both waves was massive because the population had never been exposed to such diseases before.
The Black Death (1346-1353)
Also known as the Pestilence and the Great Mortality, the Black Death was the most fatal pandemic ever recorded in human history. It led to the deaths of 75-200 million people in both Eurasia and North Africa, summiting in Europe. The cause of this pandemic was bubonic plague, which spreads through contact with infected fleas such as rodents and rats. This plague set its roots in Central Asia from where it spread to Europe and other continents through the Silk Route. The Black Death was the second disaster infiltrating Europe (the first being the Great extreme scarcity of food) and caused a massive dip in its population as well as the whole world. Around 30% to 60% of Europe’s population was wiped out, and the planet’s population went from 470 million to 375 million. Some Muslim scholars believed that the epidemic was a way of God punishing non-believers and promising the true believers who kept faith a beautiful afterlife.
Great Plague of Marseille (1720-1722)
This pandemic was the last of the tragedies caused by the bubonic plague in Europe. It arrived in France through a ship known as the Grand Saint Antoine, which was carrying cargo from the Eastern Mediterranean. A total of 100,000 people died from this disaster. Since the first outbreak of plague in Marseille, the sanitation board came up with a three-tiered quarantine system in which whenever a new ship came to the dock, it was given one of three “bills of health” which determined the level of access the boat received. When the ship came to the dock, it was promptly placed under quarantine by the authorities but was then lifted due to the pressure exerted by the merchants. This led to the deaths of thousands of people, which could not be handled by the hospitals as well as the authorities. After the plague became passive, the royal government built the waterside, which was called the Lazaret d’ Arenc, although it no longer remains at Marseille today.
Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-1920)
This wave of disease also came to be known as the 1918 flu pandemic and affected 500 million human beings worldwide (which counted for one-third of the population) in four back to back waves. It was an unusually destructive influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 A virus. The Spanish Flu was the first of the H1N1 pandemic, the second one being the swine flu epidemic in 2009. The virus was recorded to have begun on the day of 4th March 1918 in an army camp at Kansas, United States of America. It is stated that most influenza outbreaks affect those on the extreme ends of the age spectrum, but this Flu was unlike others. There had been a very high mortality rate in young adults, which proved to be the result of their strong immune system.
West African Ebola Pandemic (2013-2016)
The Ebola virus pandemic was the most widespread outbreak of EVD in history. The first case of the 2013 to 2016 epidemic was recorded in December 2013 in Guinea, from where it spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The strange ability of this virus to ‘hide’ inside the host’s body, going undetected in a survivor’s body and then growing active months or even years later, was an area of concern after the outbreak ended. The Ebola virus was first described in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, but the latest outbreak was the first time that it reached the height of an epidemic.
Written by Stuti Kathuria, a grade 9 student
Stuti is an avid writer and an Indian classical dancer. She runs a moodboard account on Instagram (@celestial_venus) and loves to read a lot! Stuti also has a great interest in activism and has helped raise money for the Black Lives Matter Movement through her moodboard account on Instagram.