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Pandemics in the U.S. – A History

Science is helping to stop the Coronavirus, but what about diseases of the past?

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of confusion as states order people to stay at home. This is not the first pandemic the United States has endured, but the ways we are fighting it are a bit different from those in the past.

The Spread of a Disease

A pandemic is when a disease spreads across the whole globe. Once upon a time, a disease could be easily limited 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, people traveled further distances, which meant carrying viruses and bacteria to other places 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 – even before the invention of airplanes.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza is one of the most well-known and deadly pandemics to reach the U.S. so far. Scientists had not yet discovered viruses and did not have the tests to detect them. They did not have any vaccines to help prevent an outbreak, or medications to treat the illness. Their only way of fighting the disease was to practice isolation and quarantine.

Medical Progress

Since the 1918 pandemic, there have been a couple of outbreaks to reach the United States: the Asian Flu (1957-1958), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-2010), and now Coronavirus or COVID-19.

In the past, people were mystified by diseases and didn’t have much knowledge about how to deal with them. In the 21st century, medical progress has given us a better chance to deal with these illnesses. The H1N1 virus was serious, but a vaccine was soon developed. With each epidemic and pandemic, we learn something new and use it to improve our responses. The social distancing of 2020 is just one method being used to save as many lives as possible.

Scientists now know that washing hands for at least 20 seconds is needed to protect against catching or spreading infections. Restricting travel and non-essential activity is also important to prevent the spread. While doctors and nurses of the past didn’t understand viruses, we have a lot more medical knowledge to help us today.


Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and 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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