Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Past pandemics that ravaged Europe

Past pandemics that ravaged Europe. This BBC article is from November 2005. It discusses some of the past disease outbreaks which have killed large numbers in Europe. As talk of a possible bird flu pandemic continues, I think this is a good article to contemplate.

The author (Verity Murphy) notes that the first recorded European pandemic was in 430BC and it hit Athens.

The Greek historian Thucydides (who survived the outbreak) wrote, "People in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and fetid breath."

Probably the worst European pandemic was in 6th Century AD under the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. A plague hit the city of Constantinople. It was the first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague. It was devastating.

Murphy noted, "From AD 541 to 542 it killed 40% of Constantinople's population, with the Byzantine historian Procopius claiming that at its peak the plague was killing 10,000 people in the city every day. The disease fanned out across the eastern Mediterranean, wiping out a quarter of the region's population."

I would hope with modern medicine that any new pandemics will kill a much smaller percentage of people. This is probably true but with the widespread travel occurring around the world a new pandemic would also hit everywhere globally rather quickly. Even a pandemic killing 1% or 2% of the world population would set a new record for pandemic deaths. (Hat tip to the World of Royalty Blog for the article.)

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