Saturday, January 08, 2022

Plagues and Pandemics (4) Caution

People reading my posts about pandemics and plagues should be careful about drawing conclusions that are not valid. Comparing events from different times is difficult, because the background conditions are so different. We should be cautious about saying one plague was worse than another because the outcomes were different.

For example, the pathogen Yersinia Pestis that caused the bubonic plague still circulates in some parts of the world, but it is easily contained with good quarantine and hygiene practices and antibiotics (because it is a bacterial infection).

Likewise, the Romans could have reduced the impact of the bubonic plague with better quarantine and a bit of rat poison. They knew about quarantine and how to kill rats, but because they did not understand the transmission of the infection, they did not bother. Basic masks would have reduced the respiratory transmission of the plague, which was the most fatal form of the disease.

Similarly, we don’t know what would have happened if Covid had arrived in the Roman Empire. The infections would have spread quickly amongst large numbers of people crammed together in slums and military camps. Without antiviral drugs, respirators and good nursing care, the death rate amongst malnourished people living with inadequate clothing and shelter could have been relatively high.

One thing is sure, for most people, life is much better today than it was in Roman times, but even then, the situation varies for different people. People living in the modern world can still struck by terrible tragedy beyond their control.

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