Historical Pandemics: 16 of History's Deadly Diseases that are Making a Comeback
16 of History’s Deadly Diseases That Were In Decline And Are Now Making A Comeback

16 of History’s Deadly Diseases That Were In Decline And Are Now Making A Comeback

Steve - January 8, 2019

16 of History’s Deadly Diseases That Were In Decline And Are Now Making A Comeback
A poster from a public health campaign in the 1920s seeking to halt the rampaging spread of TB. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Plaguing humanity since prehistoric times, tuberculosis continues to inflict suffering as the infection grows resistant to modern medicine and refuses to be consigned to history

Tuberculosis, commonly abbreviated to TB, is a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs. With symptoms including the chronic coughing of blood, fevers, and organ failure, if left untreated TB is highly fatal, killing in approximately half of active cases. Spreading through the air on fluid residue expelled from the human body, it is estimated that as many as one-quarter of the human population is currently infected with latent forms of TB; however, of this sizeable proportion less than 2.5 percent progress to active infections. Dating to at least 17,000 years ago, with evidence of TB found in the remains of ancient bison in Wyoming, it remains one of the oldest still existing infections in the world.

The isolation of TB in 1882 would win Robert Kock the Nobel Prize in Medicine, although it would take until 1921 for a vaccine to be first administered. In 1918, an estimated one in six deaths in France was a product of TB, a figure that substantially declined during the mid-20th century. By the 1950s, mortality rates had decreased by more than 90 percent in Europe. Despite this considerable progress, TB persists in the developing world and continues to affect the developed more than commonly recognized. In 2014, in the United States, nearly 10,000 cases were reported, with 555 deaths resulting from the condition in 2013. Worldwide, between two to three million succumb each year, with the bacteria growing ever resistant to antibiotic treatments.

Also Read: How Tuberculosis Became the Victorian Standard of Beauty.

16 of History’s Deadly Diseases That Were In Decline And Are Now Making A Comeback
The mosquito Aedes aegypti, the primary infectious agent of dengue fever, feeding on a human host. Wikimedia Commons.

2. Dengue fever, transmitted by tropical mosquitoes, affects tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people per year, with limited treatment and vaccination options available

A mosquito-borne tropical disease, dengue fever induces an extreme fever, vomiting, muscular spasms, and severe skin rashes. Taking between three and fourteen days for symptoms to appear, in a small percentage of cases the disease compounds into dengue hemorrhagic fever, causing bleeding, blood leakage, and dangerously low blood pressure. First recorded in China during the Jin Dynasty (265-420 CE), the present strains of the disease are believed to have originated in Africa before proliferating throughout the globe via the slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries. Despite being prevalent during and after the Second World War, a vaccine, only partially effective, was not discovered until 2016.

Due to the lack of preventative medicine concerning dengue fever, the disease continues to ravage the developing tropics. An estimated 50 to 528 million people are infected by dengue fever each year. Of these, a significant proportion requires medical attention and approximately ten to twenty thousand die as a direct consequence. Recommended treatments are limited and mostly palliative, including fluid replenishment and paracetamol. Even the developed world has not escaped the long-lasting disease. Hawaii, in the United States, is experiencing the largest outbreak of dengue fever since it obtained statehood in 1959, with 261 confirmed cases on the islands.

16 of History’s Deadly Diseases That Were In Decline And Are Now Making A Comeback
The skin of an individual three days after the start of a measles infection. Wikimedia Commons.

1. Responsible for approximately 200 million deaths between 1855 and 2005, in addition to devastating the Inca civilization, measles had been eradicated in the United States before opposition to vaccinations permitted a fatal resurgence

Lasting for between seven to ten days, the measles virus typically inflicts upon its victims an intense fever, inflammation of the eyes, and painful spots and rashes. Extreme cases of measles can also lead to diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, blindness, and even seizures. An airborne disease spreads via the coughs and sneezes of infected persons, it is rare, but not impossible for an individual who has already contracted the condition to contract it again. Once infected, there is no curative or specific treatment for measles, but supportive care, including re-hydration and antibiotics, can improve prognoses.

First emerging some time after 500 CE, a susceptible population of approximately 500,000 is required to sustain the measles virus. Consequently, after the discovery of a vaccine in 1963 a concerted effort to immunize populations began to eradicate the disease. Initially successful in this goal, measles was declared extinct in the United States by the turn of the millennium. However, due to opposition to vaccinations in contemporary America, measles has been allowed the opportunity to return. In 2014, at least 667 individuals across 14 states were freshly diagnosed with measles, whilst in 2016 a fresh epidemic begun in Arizona after 22 cases were confirmed.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“20 of History’s Most Devastating Plagues and Epidemics”, Steve, History Collection, March 1, 2019

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“Polio and its aftermath: the paralysis of culture”, Marc Shell, Harvard University Press (2005)

“Scarlet fever, a disease of yore, is making a comeback in parts of the world”, Helen Branswell, Statnews (November 27, 2017)

“Resurgence of scarlet fever in England, 2014-16: a population-based surveillance study”, Theresa Lamagni, Rebecca Guy, Meera Chand, Katherine L. Henderson, Victoria Chalker and James Lewis, The Lancet (February 1, 2018)

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“A brief history of epidemic and pestilential diseases”, N. Webster, Hudson and Goodwin (1799)

“Rubella and congenital disformities”, C. Wesselhoeft, New England Journal of Medicine (1949)

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“Leprosy, Racism, and Public Health”, Zachary Gussow, Westview Press (1989)

“Leprosy in wild armadillos”, Richard Truman, Leprosy Review (2005)

“Children who drink non-cow’s milk are twice as likely to have low vitamin D”, Geoff Koehler, St. Michael’s Hospital (October 20, 2014)

“Rickets: Not a Disease of the Past”, Linda S Nield, Prashant Mahajan, Aparna Joshi, and Deepak Kamat, Journal of the American Family Physician (August 15, 2006)

“Rickets and osteomalacia”, The National Health Service (January 22, 2010)

“Parents of diphtheria-stricken boy feel ‘tricked’ by anti-vaccination groups”, Jessia Mouzo Quintans, El Pais (June 5, 2015)

“The Hazards of Immunization”, Graham Wilson, Continuum International Publishing Group Limited (2002)

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“From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain”, Fiona Haslam, Liverpool University Press (1996)

“Syphilis: The Renaissance of an Old Disease with Oral Implications”, G. Ficarra and r. Carlos”, Head and Neck Pathology (September 2009)

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“Pertussis Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases”, William Atkinson, Public Health Foundation (May 2012)

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“The Black Death: End of a Paradigm”, Samuel K. Cohn, American Historical Review (2002)

“A Plague upon Humanity”, Daniel Barenblatt, Harper Collins (2004)

“10 of the Deadliest Global Pandemics of All Time”, Patrick Whang, History Collection, January 31, 2018

“What Really Killed William Henry Harrison”, Jane McHugh and Philip A. Mackowiak, The New York Times (March 31, 2014)

“Smallpox, Syphilis, and Salvation: Medical Breakthroughs that Changed the World”, Sheryl Persson, Readhowyouwant Publishing (2012)

“Dengue and dengue hemorrhagic fever”, D.J. Gubler, Clinical Microbiology Reviews (July 1998)

“Dengue”, C.P. Simmons, J.J. Farrar, V.V. Nguyen, and B. Wills, The New England Journal of Medicine (April 12, 2012)

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“Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases”, P.A. Offit, Smithsonian Press (2008)

“The Deadliest Pandemic in Modern History Killed Millions in the 20th Century” ,Mike Wood, History Collection, August 7, 2017

 

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