Monday, September 21, 2020 | ePaper

Pandemic In The Historical Perspectives

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Subhrendu Bhattacharjee :
Nowadays a common buzz-word of the people throughout the world is when coronavirus pandemic or so to say Covid-19 will come to an end. Coronavirus appears to be unprecedented in the history of pandemics in the combination of its easy transmissibility, a range of symptoms going from none at all to deadly, and the extent that it has disrupted the world.   
In spite of the bewildering characters of the  virus the  situation has not become so devastating till now and time is not yet ripe to predict as where the water flows. Sometimes, it seems that the people are more in the grip of the epidemic of panic than by the damaging effect of coronavirus.
This is very contextual to refer to the precedence in the antiquity that humanity has long history of pandemics and sustainable records of recoveries from all eroding viruses spreading over a vast region succumbing millions of people to death. It is evident from the history of pandemics such as, small pox, Black Death, cholera and others, that the pandemics ultimately could not survive after killing millions of people with their repeated outbreaks giving some intervals long or short.  Some viruses, as for example, small pox, plague, cholera emerged in different times after vanishing. But since there was no scientific invention in the primitive world to unearth the viruses totally they sprouted up again. It was possible to eradicate cholera in the 18th century after the invention of vaccine by a British doctor.  Casting a glance into a few accounts of recoveries from large scale pandemics in the past times, we can get a sigh of relief from the persistent fear caused by coronavirus pandemic.
The Black Death hit Europe in 1347, claimed an astonishing 200 million lives in just four years. As for how to stop the disease, people had still no scientific understanding of contagion, says Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul university but they knew that it had something to do with proximity. That's why officials of Venetian port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation in ship for 30 days and later for 40 days in quarantino, the origin of the word quarantine until they could prove they weren't sick, the start of its practice in the Western world. It became known in Venetian law as a trentino. That forced isolation had an effect, says Mockaitis.  
Small pox was endemic to Europe, Asia and Arabia for centuries, a persistent menace that killed three out of ten people it infected, the small pox virus arrived in the 15th century with the first European explorers in America. There hasn't been a kill off in human history to match what happened in Americas- 90-95 percent of the indigenous population wiped out over a century, says Mockaitis. Centuries later, small pox became the first virus epidemic to be ended by a vaccine in 1801 by a British doctor named Edward Jenner who discovered that milkmaids infected with a milder virus called cowpox seemed immune to smallpox. Jenner famously inoculated his gardener's 9-year old son with cowpox and then exposed him to that smallpox virus with no ill effect, and he was right.   
In the early-to mid 19th century, cholera tore through England, killing tens of thousands. A British doctor named John Snow suspected that the mysterious disease, which killed victims within days of the first symptoms, lurked in London's drinking water." I suspected some contamination of the water of the much-frequented street-pump in broad street", wrote Snow. With dogged effort Snow managed to remove the pump handle on the broad street drinking well, rendering it unusable, and like magic the infections dried up. Snow's efforts eventually led to a global effort to improve urban sanitation and protect drinking water from contamination in course of time.
In the light of historical analysis of major pandemics, the end game of Covid- 19 is most likely speculative involving a mix of everything that checked past pandemics: continued social control measures, new antiviral medications to ease symptoms and a vaccine. Still there is reason to think that the discovery of vaccine is the first priority. But it has not become clear to the researchers whether a vaccine will confer long-term immunity as with measles or short-term immunity as with flue shots. "But any vaccine at all would be helpful at this point," says epidemologist Aubree Gordon.
However, it can be presumed that the combination of vaccine and and natural immunity will protect many of us. The coronavirus, like most viruses, will live on --- but not as a planetary plague. It is not likely to live worldwide as pandemic but presumably to live as endemic causing its baneful effect within limited regions.

(Subhrendu Bhattacharjee is former Civil Servant. E-mail:

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