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We Don't Know Anything About Plagues

Tanvi Mishra

Posted on September 13, 2020 20:55

6 users

A look at our intimate history with grippes and what we haven't learned.

Through each burnished and scarred facet of human history, little pathogens have kept our species on its toes. From the Spanish Flu a century ago to the infamous and deeply scarring Black Death, and to the ever-present Coronavirus, grippes have plagued mankind in an insidious fashion, wickedly swinging their magnanimous scythe at our measly existence.

Today we have the beauty of scientific prowess; we understand the molecular composition of a virus, its malicious modus operandi, as well as how to disinfect and kill inactivated virions. We've made boundless strides in antibacterial medications. But despite all of this, I don't think we've actually learned anything when it comes to plagues.

Our techniques when it comes to the virus have barely changed; in the 1300s, the bubonic plague disseminated Europe, eradicating a third of its population. The plague inched its way to Italy, where in Venice, a busy port city sempiternally full of foreigners, ships were suddenly barred from sailing, and residents had to stay home for forty days ("quaranta" in Italian), and this was the birth of the word "quarantine." Over in Milan, homes were immediately shuttered, and houses of the infected were sealed off with bricks, leaving ill citizens to perish in a manner Edgar Allan Poe would have agreed with.

They also had one of the lowest numbers of cases in the entirety of Europe.

Akin to Milan, Poland's leader Casimir the Great, closed the borders to Polonia just as the plague reached his nation. They also had a minor and controlled outbreak, compared to the rest of the continent. And while some point out humorously that Poland had lots of cats, (as the plague was spread through rats,) the point was that simple measures protected thousands.

Similarly, during the Spanish Flu a meager century ago, an estimated 500 million people were infected, and when combined with an unusually high mortality rate, an absurd number of people perished.

Countries like Australia that sealed off their borders and enforced quarantines were struck with less severe consequences than nations that tried to play the plague off. Again, simple quarantining and shutting of borders proved to be effective; a centuries-old remedy for a problem that now seems to be a vital component of human existence.

The Spanish Flu in particular was nasty; it killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS did in 24 years.

Today, as our kind grapples with the virus, I can't help but quietly laugh with mirth from the interior of my soul.

The population of the world has never been higher, ergo the consequences of a virus have never been higher. We're trying our best, but by checking temperatures and providing sanitizer we're simply measuring the dragon's tail. The dragon's head is kept in check by us staying home.

If there's anything to take away from our convoluted history with plagues, it's this: We don't know anything about plagues (that could instantaneously save our kind), but staying home and closing borders works. It's that simple.

Tanvi Mishra

Posted on September 13, 2020 20:55

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Mark Carney says a coronavirus-related interest rates cut, from 0.75% to 0.25%, will provide relief "at a difficult time".

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