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Initial post: Apr 14, 2007 6:17:50 PM PDT
Pestilence and Plague

The Book of Revelation tells the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, generally believed to be War, Famine, and either death or pestilence. Albrecht Durer's woodcut of the Four Horsemen depicts the shadowy, insubstantial nature of the beasts and their riders.

In world history, there have been many famines, wars and plagues that have decimated society: The Black Death of the 14th Century, The Great Influenza pandemic of 1918, various smallpox, cholera and yellow fever epidemics. A professor of geography at British Columbia's Victoria University, Harold D. Foster, has developed a finite scale that measures the impact of disasters on society. Something like the Richter Scale of earthquake magnitude or the Fujita Tornado scale, Foster's rankings list disasters by their devastation, not necessarily by the number of deaths.

"Under the Foster Formula, which does not distinguish between disasters wrought by man and those wrought by nature, the top five are World War II (11.1), the Black Death (10.9), World War I (10.5), Stalin's Great Purge of 1936-38 (10.2) and the 1923 earthquake that devastated Tokyo (9.1). Some rankings will come as a surprise. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima (8.2) turns out to be only one-tenth of a point more disastrous than the 1970 avalanche in Peru" (TIME Mag)

Conventional wisdom holds that the Black Death of the 14th Century killed one-third of the population of Europe, or about 25 million of the 75 million inhabitants at the time.(2)
The Great Influenza of 1918 killed more people than World War I ....the figure may be somewhere as high as 100 million. Yellow Fever killed more American troops in the Spanish-American War than combat.
"Although epidemics of urban plague have dramatically waned, plague still is a significant public health problem, especially in Africa, Asia, and South America. Worldwide, there are 1000 to 2000 cases of plague reported each year, with a fatality rate between 5% and 15%. Historically, the first major epidemic of plague was recorded in China in 224 BC. Plague in Europe came in long-lasting pandemic waves. The first documented pandemic, the Justinian plague, killed several million people in the Byzantine Empire during the 6th to 8th centuries. The second pandemic, the "Black Death", caused some 25 million deaths (more than 30% of the European population) starting in the mid 14th century and culminating with the Great Plague of London in 1665. The third pandemic started in China in the middle of the 19th century and caused 10 million deaths in India alone." (Source: WHO.Org)
The bubonic form of the disease typically is transmitted from rodents through the bites of infected fleas, usually the rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopsis. It is characterized by the development of swollen and excruciatingly painful lymph nodes called buboes that often are located in the groin region.

More recent phenomena... AIDS, the Ebola Virus, and varieties of flu have killed millions more. There are still supplies of live smallpox vaccine held by the US and Russia, although there hasn't been a confirmed smallpox death since 1972____.
"Smallpox, which is believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago in India or Egypt, is one of the most devastating diseases known to humanity. For centuries, repeated epidemics swept across continents, decimating populations and changing the course of history. In some ancient cultures, smallpox was such a major killer of infants that custom forbade the naming of a newborn until the infant had caught the disease and proved it would survive. The disease, for which no effective treatment was ever developed, killed as many as 30% of those infected .In 1967, when WHO launched an intensified plan to eradicate smallpox, the "ancient scourge" threatened 60% of the world's population, killed every fourth victim, scarred or blinded most survivors, and eluded any form of treatment." (WHO. Org)
Controlling communicable disease is one thing; eradicating it is another: "The global eradication of smallpox was certified, based on intense verification activities in countries, by a commission of eminent scientists in December 1979 and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 1980."
Tuberculosis...once thought to have been eradicated... is making a resurgence, especially in the third world. And TB often combines with HIV to form a deadly double-whammy:
"HIV and TB form a lethal combination, each speeding the other's progress. HIV weakens the immune system. Someone who is HIV-positive and infected with TB bacilli is many times more likely to become sick with TB than someone infected with TB bacilli who is HIV-negative. TB is a leading cause of death among people who are HIV-positive. In Africa, HIV is the single most important factor contributing to the increase in incidence of TB since 1990." (WHO.org)
Cholera is another disease that feeds on contamination, primarily through water supplies. In 19th Century London, a single well that was contaminated by human fecal matter poisoned entire neighborhoods. (Source: The Ghost Map: By Steven Johnson) The efforts of a doctor and a minister ... Dr. John Snow and The Rev Henry Whitehead... surmised that the source of the disease was a contaminated well on Broad Street. But it took years to convince a suspicious public health system.
Even more threatening are newly-emergent, or re-incarnated, viruses. Anthrax is primarily a disease of animals, but in the hands of a bio-terrorist who has yet to be identified, it became a weapon through the mails. Shortly after the 9-11 attacks, someone sent anthrax-contaminated mail to several members of Congress and the Media. T he letters killed five postal workers and staff members.
As science identifies and isolates one disease, another springs up, and the process begins all over again.
Further Reading:
The Coming Plague, By Laur ie Garrett _________/
The Ghost Map, By Steven Johnson
The Great Mortality, By John Kelly
The Great Influenza, By John Barry
The American Plague, By _________
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The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett (Paperback - October 1, 1995)
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