Plagues, Pandemics and Viruses
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Pandemics can come in waves—like tidal waves. They change societies. They disrupt life. They end lives. As far back as 3000 B.C.E. (the Bronze Age), plagues have stricken mankind. COVID-19 is just the latest example, but history shows that life continues. It shows that knowledge and social cooperation can save lives.

Viruses are neither alive nor dead and are the closest thing we have to zombies. Their only known function is to replicate themselves, which can have devastating consequences on their hosts. Most, but not all, bacteria are good for us. Some are truly horrific, including those that caused the bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plagues. And viruses and bacteria are always morphing, evolving, and changing, making them hard to treat. Plagues, Pandemics, and Viruses: From the Plague of Athens to Covid 19 is an enlightening, and sometimes frightening, recounting of the destruction wrought by disease, but it also looks at what man has done and can do to overcome even the deadliest and bleakest of contagions.

More than two years in the making, author Heather E. Quinlan was deep into her research and writing when COVID hit. She quickly saw the similarities to plagues from the past. Plagues, Pandemics, and Viruses: From the Plague of Athens to Covid 19 not only covers the history, causes, medical treatments, human responses, and aftermath of the world’s biggest pandemics, but it also draws parallels to the present. It chronicles the diseases that have inflicted man throughout the millennia, including …

  • The differences (and similarities) between COVID-19 and other coronaviruses
  • The bubonic plague/black plague, which wiped out 30% to 60% of Europe’s population
  • The devastation to the indigenous population during the European colonization of the Americas
  • The 1918 Spanish Flu, which did not come from Spain
  • How disease “inspired” The Canterbury Tales, Wuthering Heights, the pop art of Keith Haring, and other art and literature
  • AIDS’ “patient zero”
  • How climate change will affect future pandemics
  • The aftermath of various pandemics
  • Several modern diseases making a comeback
  • … and much, much more.

    Along with investigating some of history’s most notorious pandemics and diseases, Plagues, Pandemics, and Viruses takes a look at human resilience and what we’ve learned from the past. It looks at how science, the medical community, and governments have conquered or mitigated most epidemics even before they can turn into pandemics. It reviews the science of pandemics, preventative measures, and medical interventions and it includes an exclusive interview with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as other experts in the medical community. Richly illustrated, it also has a helpful bibliography and extensive index. This invaluable resource is designed to help you understand, and protect you from, plagues, pandemics, epidemics, viruses, and disease!
    The Black Death

    In 1346 ships arrived at the port of Messina, Sicily, with silk and spices; rats carrying the Y. pestis bacteria; and crews covered in boils that oozed blood and pus. Sicilian authorities soon ordered all these “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late—once-healthy people all over Europe were about to die. Because much of the plague was airborne, it easily spread from person to person, which meant coughing or sneezing on someone was potentially enough to kill them.

    The “death ships” of Messina were not the first instance of plague. Because it originated in the Far East, it had already killed many in countries like China, India, and Egypt, steadily moving west. But commerce must move on as well, and so the ships came, seeking a port in the storm.

    After Messina, the Black Death reached Marseilles in France and Tunis in North Africa. Then it spread to Rome and Florence, two Italian cities that were the hub of circuitous medieval trade routes.

    So, why were the humans so unlucky? The answer is: we still don’t know. Researchers today agree that Yersinia pestis causes the plague. But how and why the Black Death spread so quickly and was so destructive is still up for debate.

    But we’ll start with Y. Pestis. It’s a rod-shaped bacterium covered with a layer called “biofilm” that is really nothing more than a clinical term for slime; this slime prevents Y. Pestis from being eaten by other cells.


    A rat may get Y. Pestis from a flea bite; most often it’s a black rat that will become infected with the bacteria, and the rat becomes a “reservoir” for Y. Pestis, while the flea is a “vector.” (“Vector” is another word for biting insect that spreads disease from one living thing to another.)

    If you’re the type to get the heebie-jeebies from seeing a rat, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s a black or brown rat. One doesn’t take the time to investigate, one just sees “a rat!” But from an epidemiological standpoint, particularly when it comes to the Black Death, the rat does matter.

    Rats belong to the genus Rattus. (Despite its name, Rattus includes not only rats but hamsters, mice, and gerbils, though we’ll concentrate on the rat right now.) The brown rat, or Norwegian rat (Rattus norvegicus) is brown but is not Norwegian. It probably originated in China. How it got to be called “Norwegian” is unclear, though it might have been English naturalist John Berkenhout who gave it the misnomer, believing it came from Norwegian ships. The name stuck, and therefore the rat is incorrectly thought to be Norwegian. (See another great misnomer in the chapter on the Spanish Flu.)

    Brown rats are larger than their cousin, the black rat, and they have larger ears and a longer tail. Wherever people are, brown rats are right there with them, scavenging and making more rats.

    Brown rats are sometimes mistakenly thought to have spread the Black Death, and indeed they can suffer from the plague, though researchers believe the major reservoir of bubonic plague is the black rat (Rattus rattus). This rat originated in southern and southeast Asia, then traveled west through the Middle East all the way through continental Europe and eventually to Great Britain and Ireland. Rats are terrific vectors for many diseases because of their ability to hold so many infectious bacteria in their blood without dying off themselves. What can kill it are cats, owls, weasels, foxes, and coyotes. That doesn’t place the black rat at the top of the food chain, but black rats run quickly and are fast climbers, allowing them to survive the array of predators.

    When an uninfected flea bites an infected rat, it ingests the rat’s blood and bacteria, including, Y. Pestis. The slime that covers the bacteria causes a backup between the now-infected flea’s esophagus and gut, meaning the flea can get food into its mouth but not into its stomach. The only way the flea avoids starving to death is by vomiting the blood and bacteria into whatever mammal it then bites. If that mammal is human, he or she is in danger of contracting the plague. This is what classifies the disease as zoonotic in that it’s able to pass from animals to humans. (As we’ll see later, barnyard animals are notorious for making people sick as well.)

    Rats—who eat everything from pizza to wires—also love grain. And many of these trading ships were stuffed to the gills with grain, just like the rats that stowed away on them. Usually, rats only travel about a mile from where they’re born, which is why the plague may have stayed in one place for so long. But these grain ships were possibly the ones that brought the disease west in the first place, since Egypt’s rat population exploded by feeding on the large granaries there, but now they were sailing halfway around the world and unknowingly starting a pandemic.

    Now consider something cuter than Rattus rattus: the gerbil. While it’s easy to point a finger at something, well, ratty, gerbils are welcomed as pets, given their own home, and allowed to crawl all over children. If someone were to do this with a rat, they might be written about in horror stories or police blotters. It’s the gerbil’s cuddly look and docile nature that lure people into believing they’re harmless, and while gerbils wouldn’t spread plague with intent, the result would be the same.

    Gerbils, which are relatives of rats, inhabit—among other places—the same parts of Asia that rats do; they also carry fleas and hop on ships bound for parts unknown. Rats have shouldered the blame for the Black Death for several centuries (even more than fleas), but it’s only just now that researchers from the University of Oslo are comparing the dates of plague outbreaks with climatic data that are revealed in tree rings. The results show that major temperature fluctuations in Asia—extreme highs followed quickly by extreme lows—preceded plague outbreaks in Europe by about 15 years. That kind of weather, they believe, would have been too wet for rats to flourish and carry infected fleas across continents but just right for rat cousins like gerbils and marmots.

    Under these conditions, fleas also become more active, and gerbils more numerous. Indeed, researched found that an increase of 1-degree Celsius doubles the prevalence plague in Central Asian rodents. Could it be that these furry little friends are rats in gerbil’s clothing?

    Plague Varieties

    What we do know for sure is that Y. Pestis is a type of bacterium that’s beyond bad. It’s the cause of the plague. And not just one plague but at least three that we know of: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic.

    Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease. It is marked by the sudden appearance of bulbously swollen, blue, and painful lymph nodes (called buboes) in the groin or armpits, where our lymph nodes are. (In fact, bubon is Greek for “groin” or “swollen groin.”) Bubonic plague is not directly transmitted from one human to another unless there is direct contact with lymph node tissue or secretions; it’s usually caused by the bite of an infected flea. Back in medieval times, you had about a 15% chance of surviving.

    Pneumonic plague, the second most common, can start as bubonic plague but then settle into the lungs, causing a rapid and severe form of pneumonia that leads to respiratory failure, shock, and death. It is the only type that can be spread person to person if someone inhales infected water droplets traveling through the air. No one survived pneumonic plague.

    Septicemic plague, the rarest, can also start as bubonic plague but then attacks a person’s blood cells, causing skin or other tissue to die and turn black, especially on the extremities of hands and feet. It’s caused by either an infected flea bite or by handling an infected animal. The bad news is you will most definitely die from septicemic plague, but the good news is it won’t take long. Perhaps even just one day.

    No one knew exactly how the Black Death was transmitted, and no one knew how to prevent or treat it. For example, one doctor claimed that “instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick.”

    Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another, for this illness seemed to strike through breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could. And in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And I, Angelo di Tura … buried my five children with my own hands … And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city.

    –Angelo di Tura of Siena, Italy

    Around 1347, a banker named Giovanni Vilanni happened to be chronicling the history of Florence when the plague arrived. His Nuova Cronica is a treasure for the amount of detail he gave that other writers would have overlooked—the number of banks, bakeries, notaries, and surgeons in Florence; the name of every street, square, bridge, and family.

    While Vilanni’s mind focused on the statistics that made up Florence, the plague is what captured his creative side. In the autumn of 1347, Villani predicted, “This plague was … foretold by the masters in astrology last March…. The sign of Virgo and its master … Mercury … signif[y] death.” That winter, earthquakes in Italy and Germany underscored Vilanni’s belief that the end was nigh, especially after a “column of fire” glowed over Avignon, France. Eyewitnesses claimed it was a natural phenomenon produced by “the sun’s rays like a rainbow,” but Vilanni maintained its appearance “nevertheless [is] a sign of future and great events.” By “great,” Vialnni meant “terrible.”

    Of the plague, Vilanni wrote about it as though it were an unwelcome visitor, yet one that couldn’t help but admire the beauty of Florence. Stopping to admire “views that resemble paintings,” and Florence’s “beautiful streets, beautiful hospitals, beautiful palaces and beautiful churches,” he observed how the plague burst into homes and churches and upon the inhabitants “with the speed of fire racing through a dry or oily substance.”

    The last line of Nuova Cronica states: “The priest who confessed the sick and those who nursed them so generally caught the infection that the victims were abandoned and deprived confession, sacrament, medicine, and nursing.... And many lands and cities were made desolate. And this plague lasted till _____"

    Villani left this last part blank so he could fill in the date when it ended. But Villani died of the plague in 1348. His brother Mateo continued the Cronica until he too died from the plague, and it was finally completed by Mateo’s son, Filippo Villani, in 1364.

    That the plague brought Florence to its knees was especially poignant because by the fourteenth century it was arguably the most cosmopolitan, artistic, and influential city on the Italian peninsula. Though one would have thought that title belonged to Rome, the fall of the Roman Empire and, more recently, the pope’s move from Rome to Avignon dimmed Rome’s glory. Now it was Florence that bloomed, a place where works of art were sponsored by patrons to beautify the city, and its famed banking industry brought economic prosperity. Florence even got a head start on the Renaissance thanks to painters like Giotto, writers like Dante, and sponsors like the Medici banking family. And there was Orsonmichele, a Florentine church with a façade adorned with the bronze and stone statues of the saints carved by the likes of Donatello.

    But all the beauty, money, and piety couldn’t help Italy’s wealthiest city. The plague likely entered through Florence’s closest port city, Pisa. Once Florentines realized the pestilence had begun, city leaders took precautionary measures like destroying the clothes of the sick and the dead instead of selling them, forcing all prostitutes to leave the city to help cleanse it of sin, and preventing people from Genoa and Pisa from entering.

    In June 1348, the death rate was about 100 people per day; by August it was 400 per day—at least 20 times what was considered normal. By October the population had been cut from 100,000 to 50,000.

    The Grain Office, or Grascia, was originally in charge of distributing grain, making sure it got to market, and controlling the price. The Grascia later absorbed a judicial office that kept a record of the weekly dead called the “Book of the Dead” or Libri di Grascia Morti. The first book contained those who died during the Black Death and included the following: the deceased’s name, where they lived, cause of death, what parish they were buried in, and the gravedigger who buried them. Depending on who did the recording, there could be a plentiful amount of information or barely a name. The Grascia Morti did not take into account those who fled to the countryside to wait out the plague, including city leaders.

    The End

    However, those who stayed and either avoided or recovered from the plague were often richly rewarded. Members of a guild—which was a type of exclusive union—and those in banking made sure their estates were taken care of. More wills were written than ever before, and this sometimes left the power and money consolidated into one family member. The Florentines also had a great spirit of charity, and huge donations were made to help the needy.

    When the plague finally burned out in 1349, Florence was ready to get on its feet again. It was battered but unbroken, with an optimism that included a drive to repopulate the city on several fronts. One was to offer incentives for artisans and craftsmen to move to Florence; another was to make guild and monastery membership easier to attain. Still another was a push to literally repopulate the city by ensuring that every woman of marriageable age had a dowry—money or goods that she brought into a marriage. Marriages then were more like financial or political transactions. The Florentine Dowry Fund (Monte delle doti) was set up to make sure women brought enough to the table to get married and therefore have babies.

    So, what happens when a plague ends? The answer is that life goes on. What else is there to do? There are still mouths to feed, land to till, markets to tend. But there was a surprising benefit to the enormous casualties the Black Death left in its wake—an economic boom. Whereas before the plague there had been famine, low wages, and a surplus of workers, after the plague the few remaining shoemakers, blacksmiths, and the like could demand higher wages and pay lower rent for the land they worked. Fewer people also meant less demand for food, so farming itself became less profitable. A mass migration into towns and villages began with men taking jobs in cloth- or brick-making. Others became traders or servants. Family farms were abandoned. Landowners changed their business plans, too—they embraced a new way of life called capitalism, which continues today.
    About the Author




    1. Introduction to Plagues (Bacteria and Viruses, Your Immune System, Vaccines and Antibiotics)

    2. Early Medicine (Paging Dr. Paleo, Hippocrates and the First Physicians, Plagues of the Ancient World, The Plague of Athens, The Plague of Justinian)

    3. The Black Death

    4. The Plagues of London

    5. Plagues of Africa and the Tropics (Yellow Fever, Ebola; Zika)

    6. Smallpox: The Old World Collides with the New World

    7. STIs (Herpes, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, HIV/AIDS)

    8. Addictions (Alcoholism, The Crack Epidemic, Opioids)

    9. Do or Die Battles (Rabies, Cholera, TB, Polio)

    10. 1918: The Spanish Flu Isn’t Spanish

    11. Coronaviruses (MERS, SARS, COVID-19)

    12. The Future



  • Sujets


    Publié par
    Date de parution 01 novembre 2020
    Nombre de lectures 0
    EAN13 9781578597369
    Langue English
    Poids de l'ouvrage 30 Mo

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    Photo Sources
    The Beginning of the End
    Early Medicine
    The Black Death
    The Plagues of London
    Plagues of Africa and the Tropics
    Smallpox in the New World
    Sexually Transmitted Infections
    Do-or-Die Battles
    The 1918 Flu
    Living with Pathogens
    Further Reading
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    Thomas Splettstoesser: p. 184 .
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    W riting a book, even on a topic that you re drawn to, can be complicated, and this is not a project I could ve completed on my own. As such, I want to thank my husband, Adam McGovern, for listening to the entire book read aloud and offering his insight, support, and good cheer. Also cheering me on and sending me the latest pandemic news was my mother, Catherine Christman, and my stepfather, Ken Christman, who sadly passed away before this book was finished and to whom it s dedicated.
    Also, a huge thank you to Lori Wark for her work on the Decameron section; Kevin Hile, my editor, for his patience and direction; and Roger J necke, my publisher, for his patience, good will, and for talking to me at BEA in the first place.
    Finally, I heartily appreciate the thoughtfulness and honesty of those who agreed to be interviewed for this book: Pastor Stephen C. Butler, Prof. Sharon DeWitte, Dr. Greg Galvin, Kristen Ficarra Huetz, Barbara Fisher Coughlin, Anita Ghatak, Imam Wesley Lebron, Jeanette Mallett, Prof. Richelle Munkhoff, Rabbi Ariann Weitzman, those who are co-parenting during a pandemic, and last but not least, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who took time out of a horrendously busy day in the middle of a pandemic to talk to me about viruses and why he majored in Classics.
    To anyone who ever failed science class. And to Ken, who taught me the answer always has to make sense.

    I vy is not a parasite or a virus, yet it behaves like one. In fact, ivy arguably performs better than many microscopic killers-instead of infecting its host and then dying along with it, ivy kills the host and survives. Tales of people leaving their windows open on summer nights only to find that ivy had crept in by morning is enough to make one invest in herbicides, and yet, even the deadliest of chemicals don t always do the trick.
    Look around, and you ll see the survival of the fittest. Humans, trees, dogs, fish, even guinea pigs that are currently alive are descended from ancestors that survived hundreds, thousands, or sometimes even millions of years of disease, environmental change, warfare-anything that nature could throw at it to thin the herd. We re all survivors-and yet, we all still die, sometimes quietly and peacefully and sometimes violently. This book is about those who died in droves, powerless to diseases of the mind, body, and even spirit-diseases that are so powerful, they can fell the strongest of any species, just as a gentle-looking ivy can bring down a mighty oak.
    The sheer quantity of these deaths affects not only individuals but communities, economies-even the arts. Without the Great Plague, Canterbury Tales , The Decameron -not even The Seventh Seal , a film that was released centuries later-would exist.
    When the Old World first met the New World en masse in the sixteenth century, they proceeded to destroy it with the help of horses, cows, and chickens while also believing they were saving the indigenous people from a godless life. AIDS brought the outing of the gay community: because they were dying, suddenly, the manliest of Hollywood actors were forced to confess that they loved their fellow manliest of Hollywood actors. In all these scenarios, death reached into places no one had ever imagined it could.
    This book will cover plagues, pandemics, and all manner of viruses, bacteria, buboes, vaccines, and diseases that felled entire civilizations-but within are also stories of heroism, of art, of warfare, and of healing because plagues are more than sickness. They reshape borders, create literature, push us to learn what we can about medicine hopefully in time to stop diseases whose potential to destroy is only just being realized.
    L et s start with the reason you might have picked up this book: the Black Death.

    God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us. And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust, wrote William Langland in his poem Piers Plowman. Langland was one of the lucky few who survived the Black Death, though lucky may not be the correct word because once the Black Death disappeared, what remained was a land in ruins and its people insane with grief and confusion. Where did this plague come from? Why did God allow this to happen? Will it come back again? These are all questions we re still asking today in one form or another.
    Traditionally, the study of history hasn t focused on disease partly because it s been too mysterious to write about decisively and partly because it doesn t fit in with our idea of history being written by humans. Sometimes, bacteria or viruses do, in fact, do the writing.
    A fourteenth-century person s lack of understanding about medicine also meant that they didn t record in detail what happened, and when they did, it wasn t reported particularly well. Frequently, diseases were seen as the result of God s wrath over something. Lack of prayer, overall heresy-even Jews were named as potential causes. Widespread death was also blamed on miasma, which we know today as an oppressive feeling, but back then, it was a synonym for bad air. Therefore, a lot of speculating as to just what went on had to be done centuries later.
    Despite these roadblocks, the medical community was able to piece together several clues; today, we largely believe that plague was caused by bacteria and turned into a pandemic through international trade. Nothing spreads disease like trade. Trade is great for the economy and terrible at keeping people alive. In this case, the bacterium Yersinia pestis (aka Y. pestis ) hitched a ride on fleas, which hitched a ride on rats, which hitched a ride on ships that started in the Far East and made their way to the Mediterranean, bearing cloth, spices, and plague. Death was coming, and people could not do anything to stop it. The rest is history.
    L et s take a minute and look into what Y. pestis is about. Y. pestis is a bacterium. The flu is a virus. Are bacteria and viruses the same thing? No. Bacteria are to viruses what you are to a potato. Both bacteria and viruses can ruin your day by giving you a cold or explosive diarrhea, but that s where the comparison ends. You and a potato actually have more in common because you re both living organisms with complex cells and are capable of reproduction and metabolism; you even both have eyes, so to speak. A virus is not capable of reproduction and metabolism. In some circles, a virus isn t even considered alive. Nor is it dead. It exists, so to speak, in a gray area.
    Bacteria are cellular creatures that you can easily see under a microscope. They were among the first life forms to appear on Earth. They re mostly made of cytoplasm, that is a clear, jellylike fluid that houses all the biochemical reactions that keep bacteria alive. To prevent the cytoplasm from floating away, bacteria are surrounded by cell membranes, also known as cell walls. Though a bacterium is just a tiny, single cell, the weight of all the bacteria in the world is more than that of every living plant and animal.

    Bacteria live everywhere: in the water, on you-trillions are around you right now-on your furniture, in your bed, on your skin, and even inside you. You have 10 times more bacterial cells inside you than your own cells.

    Bacteria have a bad reputation, but most are a

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