Throughout history, as man evolved, so did its greatest threat: disease. In the beginning, when mankind was nomadic and lived out their lives in small family units, disease barely existed. At the beginning of the Neolithic Age, however, when humans began to live in cities, all of that changed.
The first notable epidemic, a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time, was the Black Plague in medieval Europe. The reason it is called the Black Plague is due to how the diseased and deceased victims of this fatal disease would begin to rot alive, turning their extremities, such as fingers and toes, black. The Black Plague, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was brought to Europe in the form of infected fleas on rats in carried on trade ships from the Middle East and Asia. At the time, these rodents were everywhere, as there wasn’t a proper sewer system in the cities and bathing was a rare occurrence at best.
The Bubonic Plague is characterized by swollen or tender lymph nodes on the neck and under the armpits, fingers, toes, and other extremities turning black, fever, bloody cough, vomiting, and delirium. If the lymph nodes couldn’t fight off the infection, they eventually would swell and burst, causing the neck and the area under the armpits to turn a dark purple-black color. Once the lymph nodes burst, the Bubonic Plague became the Pneumonic Plague, and the infected could spread the disease through the air. When this occurred, the neck and underarm regions, where the nodes are located, become a blackish purple color. Then the infection spreads through the bloodstream into vital organs. Once the organs have become infected, there is a zero percent chance of survival. In the time of the Bubonic Plague, the methods of treatment included lancing or attaching leeches to the lymph nodes, which only hurried the process of the disease as well as infected anyone nearby, including the doctors.
In modern times, the best form of treatment is hospitalization and strong antibiotics in patients whose lymph nodes have not yet burst. If a patient’s lymph nodes have burst, however, the case becomes terminal. The main method of prevention is simply to control the rat population, as in more recent outbreaks of Bubonic Plague, it is due to a disregard towards managing the rat population. Another significant epidemic in history is the flu pandemic of 1918.
A pandemic is a disease prevalent in a whole country or the world, and this particular pandemic affected almost one-third of the world’s population. The first areas to be affected were Europe, the United States, and parts of East Asia, but it quickly spread to encompass the globe within months. This particular strain of flu is sometimes known as the Spanish flu, as it hit Spain the hardest. The surprising thing about this particular pandemic is that the young and healthy, usually the least affected by outbreaks of disease, were not immune in the slightest. Another inconsistency was that people in the big cities, as well as in the most isolated communities, contracted this fatal strain.
The death toll was anywhere from twenty to fifty million, but over one hundred million fell victim to the disease. The reason that this number is so varied is due to how modern doctors cannot be sure of how many victims met their end by the flu, and how many met their end due to treatment for the flu in hospitals. Symptoms of the flu include fever, nausea, muscle pain, cough, swollen lymph nodes, and congestion. In the early 1900s, there were few antibiotics, many of which had negative side effects, such as death. Now, there are vaccinations that will increase one’s immunity, as well as medication to help put a stop to the disease in those infected. The best prevention is simply to wash one’s hand often and get annual flu shots every fall when they are offered. A more recent epidemic would be the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
This disease was at first considered only a minor threat, as the first outbreaks were easy to contain. This deadly and highly contagious disease is characterized by fever, bloody cough, vomiting blood, red epidermal spots, severe internal bleeding, and organ failure. There is little to do in the means of treatment, such as isolated hospitalization and blood transfusions. The main method of prevention is to isolate those infected and not let anyone come into contact with them outside of the medical equivalent of a hazmat suit.