Lessons from a pandemic: what kind of experience have epidemics brought to humanity

(ORDO NEWS) — The first documented pandemic in history was the Justinian Plague. Its height came in 542, when mortality reached, according to various estimates, from 5 to 10 thousand people a day. They called the disease after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I – a dubious honor, given that he himself did not infect anyone, but only reigned in this period.

The plague swept the entire civilized world, and, as the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea testified, “there was no man’s salvation, no matter where he lives – neither on the island, nor in the cave, or on the top of the mountain. His notes paint a terrible picture: empty houses and bodies lying on the streets, trade stopped, all the shops closed.

Mentions are preserved about the disease itself . Numerous symptoms are listed in the “Church History” by Evagrius Scholastic, who suffered the plague personally: “This ulcer was detected by various diseases: for some, it started from the head, eyes filled with blood, the face swelled, then went to the throat and, covering it, deprived a person of life. Others fell into insanity and in this state gave up their spirits.”

The plague scared not only mortality, but also unpredictability. In some, for example, the disease was severe, in others it was completely imperceptible, although in both cases it ended in death. And even recovery did not mean deliverance – to some, Scholastic wrote, the disease returned several times, often with fatal outcome. There were no ways to infect. One had enough conversation with the patient, the other – to visit his house or even in the same city square. Still others, although they did not hurt themselves, actively infected others.

But there were those who had complete immunity. They lived with the sick, shared food with them and touched the dead, but the plague ignored them. Such luck was also relative. Scholastic’s notes mention people who “having lost all their children or family members, although they wanted to die and purposely treated the sick, were not infected , since it would act contrary to their wishes.”

About 66 percent of the population of Constantinople died from the disease. In total, about 66 million people became victims of the plague in the East, and in Europe their number reached 25 million. According to other estimates, the death toll varies from 30 to 50 million. In any case, the scale is catastrophic, if you recall that at that time the population of the Earth was only 200 million people.

Scientists still have not come to a consensus on how the remnants of humanity dealt with the epidemic. The main assumption is that, without proper understanding of how to treat the disease, the survivors came to the only logical conclusion – to avoid contact with the infected.

Who invented quarantine?

Like a bad horror movie, after 800 years, the plague returned. In 1347, Europe was struck by black sea, over the next four years, claimed the lives of 200 million people. Like centuries ago, the reason was only one bacterium – plague stick. The blame for the spread of the second devastating plague in Western Europe is usually blamed on Khan Dzhanibekov. It was during his reign that the Golden Horde was seized by an epidemic brought by steppe rodents from the Gobi Desert.

At that time, Janibek himself enthusiastically tried to capture the port city of Kaffa, the trade center of the Crimean peninsula, which actually monopolized trade in the Black Sea. But a long siege turned into a disaster for the Mongols themselves, whose ranks began to mow the black death. There was no question of further storming, but Janibek was not going to retreat just like that. Having loaded the bodies of the dead soldiers into the catapults, the survivors sent a farewell gift to the residents of the Crimean city. In fact, the medieval equivalent of biological weapons was obtained.

So the infection of the interventionists spread to the local population. Frightened merchants decided to leave Caffa, and a few days later the first ships with holds full of dead and dying people – carriers of infection began to arrive on the shores of Sicily. Interestingly, black death gave the world such a concept as quarantine. The authorities of the port city of Ragusa in Italy, for reinsurance, forbade arrived sailors to leave ships for 30 days. This measure is called trentino. In the future, this period increased to 40 days and became known as quarantino.

London-style self-isolation

The inhabitants of London did not wait for a respite from the plague. Over the next 300 years, until the mid-1600s, the infection returned there about 40 times, and each time claimed about 20 percent of the population. But the most devastating – both in terms of human lives and the economy – was the 1665 epidemic.

By that time, London had grown to the largest city in the UK. The future capital flourished, and its population in the short term increased by 100 thousand people. But the high density, multiplied by total unsanitary conditions, did their job, and the city was flooded with rats – carriers of plague bacteria.

The chronicle of the epidemic is described in detail in the “Plague Year Diary” by Daniel Defoe. The first two deaths, he writes, happened back in December 1664. The families of the victims tried to keep this a secret, but to no avail – rumors about the return of the plague to neighboring Holland had long hovered over London, and everyone remained extremely vigilant.

Unfortunately for the townspeople, the investigation confirmed the diagnosis, and before the end of the year another person died in the same house – also from the plague . The next seven months devastated the city by 100 thousand people, that is, by one fifth of the population. The streets were depopulated, but not only because of the departure or death of the townspeople. Many families, foreseeing the impending pestilence, practiced self-isolation – they stocked up with a huge amount of products and “hid from the light so well that they were not seen and not heard during the whole disaster, and only after it ended they again appeared safe and sound.”

Defoe also notes how the professional part of life has changed: “All the Judicial Inns (lawyers’ communities) were closed, and there were almost no lawyers either in Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, or Grace Inn <…> A variety of artisans, merchants , artisans and others were left without work; and this led to the dismissal of a myriad of day laborers and workers of various professions, as trade completely stopped, with the exception of the sale of those things that were absolutely necessary. ” The government took emergency measures and introduced official quarantine. All recreational activities were banned, and patients were locked right in their homes – in order to avoid further spread of the infection.

Influenza, measles and others

In addition to the plague, epidemics at different times caused other highly contagious (in other words, contagious) infections, such as flu. The first mention of large outbreaks dates back to the Middle Ages, however, the notorious “Spaniard”, the flu pandemic that happened at the end of the First World War, became one of the worst pandemics. Within a year and a half, she claimed the lives of about 80 million people.

Mass deaths from this disease occurred later. “Asian” flu in 1957-1958 killed more than one million people. From “Hong Kong” flu in 1968-1969, more than 30 thousand were killed. More than 300 thousand people became victims of the “Russian” flu in 1977-1978, whose roots are also sought in Central and Southeast Asia.

Only in the last century, mankind began to recognize enemies in person and understand the nature of an epidemic . After all, outbreaks of measles, polymyelitis or diphtheria occur today. However, scientists have found an effective and possibly the only way to contain epidemics – vaccination. And smallpox, a deadly disease that killed at least 300 million people in the 20th century, was the first infectious disease to be completely eradicated. And also thanks to widespread vaccination: since 1978, not a single case of this disease has been recorded.

The basic scheme of vaccines has not changed since the time of Edward Jenner, who created the vaccination. Antigens are introduced into the body to prepare the human immune system for a meeting with pathogens of infectious diseases. The differences are different – in strain and antigenic composition, in the form of the vaccine itself, of which there are many.

There are many diseases – one answer

In Russia, the largest supplier of vaccines in the framework of the National Preventive Vaccination Calendar is the Natsimbio holding of Rostec State Corporation. His businesses are creating vaccines against a wide range of diseases – from flu to Q fever. In 2019, a more modern and effective flu vaccine with four strains of the virus was launched. At that time, more than 5.5 million people from risk groups — medical workers, teachers and educators, public transport drivers, and representatives of a number of other professions — were able to instill in it. Also in 2019, the holding company registered the first Russian three-component vaccine Vactrivir for the simultaneous prevention of measles, mumps and rubella. The drug will hit the market in 2020.

Extensive vaccination allows you to control dangerous diseases, providing in society “collective immunity.” For the first time this term (aka “herd immunity” – herd immunity) appeared in 1923. In the 1930s, this phenomenon was first confirmed with measles. The results of an epidemiological study by A. Hedrich showed that after many children became immune to measles, the incidence rate decreased even among susceptibles.

“An effective, safe and most optimal way to create collective immunity is through mass vaccination. The result is almost the same as after the illness, but a person does not have to suffer from the symptoms of the disease, risk his health and life, ”commented the doctor of medical sciences, professor, deputy director of the Microgen Development and Implementation Center (managed by Natsimbio) ) Alexander Sergeev.

Wholesale Market Virus

Today the world is faced with yet another massive threat to human health. On the last day of 2019, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of unknown pneumonia in Hubei – Wuhan. The causative agent was a new coronavirus, named COVID-19.

Tracking the chronology of the disease, experts disagree about when the first case of infection occurred. The reports feature different dates: November 17, December 1, December 8. But experts agree on one thing: most cases have been linked to the seafood market in Wuhan. By the end of the year, the number of patients and patients with coronavirus in China increased to 266 people. Soon, the virus spread to other countries. The next reported cases of infection were authorities in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. It became known about the infected in Australia and the United States. At the end of January, COVID-19 came to Russia.

Lessons of the past

Today, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the country has reached almost 300 thousand. The challenge that everyone faces is to prevent the situation from getting worse. The main rules are simple and common for everyone – do not leave the apartment unnecessarily, wash your hands thoroughly, do not touch your face again and keep a social distance of one and a half meters. It is interesting that, according to Rospotrebnadzor, these and other methods of preventing COVID-19 have led to a decrease in the incidence of traditional infections – SARS and influenza.

At the beginning of the year, the state had to reorganize the work of industry as quickly as possible to produce equipment to contain coronavirus in Russia. A huge government order was placed on products that reduce the risk of infection. This, including air disinfection units, protective masks, special antiviral suits for doctors. The importance of such developments can hardly be overestimated: if they were at the disposal of our ancestors, the consequences of numerous epidemics would be much less serious.

Among the new solutions to fight dangerous infections are thermal imagers to identify people with fever. The production of this equipment under the COVID-19 conditions was established by the Shvabe holding of Rostec State Corporation. And there is a reason for this – high fever is one of the main symptoms of the disease.

“It is the temperature that needs to be paid attention in the first place,” said Ivan Mozzhukhin, Deputy General Director of Schwabe. – For large cities this is especially true. The high density and increased mobility of the population makes megacities an optimal medium for the spread of infections, and it is very important to detect a potential virus carrier in a timely manner.”

One such thermal imager can prevent hundreds and even thousands of new infections. Complexes for a reason were created for placement in crowded places – at train stations, airports and large shopping centers. There, the risk of transmission from person to person is particularly high. A certain temperature threshold is entered into the system, based on which the thermal imager emits in the crowd those whose temperature is outside the normal range. The process is carried out instantly, which allows you to respond as quickly as possible.

Thermal imagers of the Schwabe holding in action

The introduction of such developments is an extremely important, but still not a key measure. The main role is still given to people. They, remembering the lessons presented by the history of world pandemics, should responsibly approach the issues of their health and the safety of others.


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