Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Plagues and Pandemics (1)

During the holiday season, I have been reading some books about plagues, infections and pandemics (as you do). Here are some of the interesting things that I discovered.

  • Right up to the beginning of the twentieth century, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death throughout the world.

  • One of the greatest blessings of living in the modern world is that the risk of dying of an infectious disease has become vanishingly small.

  • Because we live in an age where infectious diseases are under control, we have forgotten what it is like to live in a world where any or several of the following could strike at any time.

    • Typhoid
    • Smallpox
    • Leprosy
    • Tuberculosis
    • Diptheria
    • Bubonic plague
    • Rabies
    • Yellow Fever
    • Malaria
    • Hydatids
    Some of these diseases frequently decimated populations and destroyed families in earlier generations.

  • Up until the last few generations, the average life expectancy was about thirty years. A huge number of babies and children died of infectious diseases.

  • Life was not just short; it was also uncertain, as infectious diseases tended to come in waves and could strike at any time.

  • Because infectious diseases are so well controlled in the western world, most people now die of chronic diseases, cancers and degenerative disorders. The nature of dying has changed significantly.

  • Many aspects of modern life are designed to limit the effects of infectious diseases, even if we have forgotten the reasons.

    • cleaning floors and surfaces with disinfectants
    • flushing toilets
    • toilet paper
    • washing hands with soap
    • shaving beards
    • cooking food
    • refrigeration of food
    • chlorinated water
    • fly screens
    • grates on drains
    • hot drinks
    • washing clothes
    • changing bedding frequently
    • washing hair.
    All these regular activities help reduce our vulnerability to infections.

The tools available to mitigate the risk of infectious diseases are not perfect, and some of the pathogens that attack us adapt quickly, so future pandemics are inevitable. Covid is a reminder of this reality. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberation from infectious disease, but severe disruptions are inevitable.

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