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Pandemics: A Historical Perspective

In the 21st century, we are both lucky and unlucky when it comes to pandemics.

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of confusion and debate as state after state orders residents to stay at home. Fear has caused panic buying so that stores are having difficulty keeping up with everyday materials such as toilet paper, while arguments and blame have been tossed at President Donald Trump as to whether he is taking the right protocols and measures to protect the American people. This is not the first pandemic the United States has endured, but the ways in which we are fighting against it and protecting people are a bit different from those in the past.

The Spread of a Disease

A pandemic is different from an epidemic basically because the former spreads globally while the latter will remain within a particular geographical area. Once upon a time, a disease could be easily contained to just part of the planet – for example, one of the most famous deadly diseases, the Bubonic Plague, was limited to only Europe and parts of Asia, and it took years to spread across the region in the 1300s. As the world became more modern, it became more accessible for people to travel further distances, which meant carrying viruses and bacteria to other locales was easier. This was first seen with the 1889-1890 flu pandemic that started in Russia and took only five weeks to spread over the globe and reach its peak mortality. All of this was accomplished before the invention of airplanes.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza (which didn’t really originate in that country) is perhaps the most well-known and deadly of the pandemics to reach the U.S. so far. That particular virus took more lives than World War One, which occurred during the same time frame. The close quarters of the soldiers and lack of medical knowledge to combat the flu significantly contributed to the spread. Scientists had not yet discovered viruses and did not have the laboratory tests we have today to detect them. They also did not have any vaccines to help prevent an outbreak, nor did they have antiviral medications to treat the illness. Their only way of fighting the disease at the time was to practice isolation and quarantine, yet even those were done inconsistently.

Medical Progress

Since the 1918 pandemic, there have been a couple of significant outbreaks in the country: the Asian Flu (1957-1958), the H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-2010), and now Coronavirus or COVID-19 – the “19” represents the starting year of the outbreak, 2019.

Throughout history, people were mystified by epidemics and had little knowledge about how to treat or prevent diseases. In the 21st century medical progress has given us a far better chance to deal with these illnesses before they gain a substantial foothold. The H1N1 virus was serious, but a vaccine was soon developed and is included now in the yearly flu preventive shots available from most medical facilities. With each epidemic and pandemic, we learn something new and use it to improve our responses and treatments. Today’s modern technology and medical knowledge have brought us a long way, and the social distancing of 2020 is just one method being used to save as many lives as possible. We’ve been able to develop vaccines for various types of flu and antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. We also have a global influenza surveillance system that monitors flu activity and is surveilled by 114 World Health Organization member states.

Health professionals now know that washing hands for at least 20 seconds is needed to protect against catching or spreading bacterial and viral diseases. Restricting travel and non-essential activity is also imperative to preventing the spread. While some measures were taken during the 1918 Spanish Flu, not enough was known about the science or medical prevention to meet the population’s needs effectively. The United States, as with other countries around the world, has shut down its borders, knowing the importance of stopping people from traveling and spreading the virus is paramount when dealing with a pandemic.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at LibertyNation.com and LNGenZ.com. Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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