Diseases Throughout the Ages

Lillianna Schneider

Looking Six Months Back

This article is part of a series of articles that were written last school year but were never published due to the pandemic. The Norse Code has decided to publish these articles to give insight into how people were feeling at that time.

Since before humanity, there have been diseases as simple as the cold or as deadly as the Bubonic Plague.They affect animal, plant, and human life alike. However, if asked about diseases/plagues, almost everyone would think of the Bubonic Plague, the Spanish Flu, COVID-19. Those are some of the more famous diseases that have occurred throughout history. However, like everything, all diseases have a history.

In 430 B.C., a disease that is unnamed was recorded. It is currently the earliest known pandemic and it affected the Athenians and Spartans alike. During the time of this pandemic, Sparta and Athens were locked in combat. They were fighting in what would be known as the Peloponnesian War which was basically a Civil War that lasted fifteen years. Peace would be decreed in 445 B.C. but not before the Athens were affected by this pandemic. The symptoms of this disease were fever, dehydration, a bloody tongue and throat, along with red skin and lesions. A lesion is a region in an organ or tissue that has suffered damage. According to History.net, this disease killed from a third to two-thirds of the Athens population and tilted the war’s favor to the Spartans. 

Skipping forward in time, another disease hit in 250 A.D. It was called the Cyprian Plague and it was named after its first victim, the Christian Bishop of Carthage. People believe it started in Ethiopia before moving through Africa, Rome and Egypt. People would panic and try to flee but only ended up spreading it. The symptoms of this disease were vomiting, diarrhea, and fevers. The Ancient History Encyclopedia says that the plague could kill up to 5,000 people a day. For the next three centuries, there were outbreaks all over. 

The next plague was the Justinian Plague in 541 A.D. which started in Egypt. However, it spread quickly and soon reached the Bystantine Empire which caused some major problems. Emperor Justinian of Eastern Rome was planning on reconquering the Western part of Rome but the disease cut him short. This disease also caused major economic struggle but over the next two centuries, this plague would claim over 50 million lives. It created an apocalyptic atmosphere but it also caused Christianity to spread like wildfire. This time is believed to be the first sight of the bubonic plague because this plague was also carried by rats and rodents. 

In the 11th century, leprosy reached one of its highest points. This disease that causes sores and deformities have been around for many, many years. It grew rapidly in Europe in the Middle Ages and many makeshift hospitals were built to try and control this outbreak. However, this disease was thought by many to be a punishment from God and it led to many of its victims to be torn away from their family and left to die away from humanity. Today, leprosy is called Hansen’s disease but unfortunately, it still affects over 10,000 people every year and can be fatal if they don’t have access to the right antibiotics. And according to the CDC’s website, some symptoms include dry skin, loss of eyebrows or eyelashes, a stuffy nose, and nosebleeds. 

The second outbreak of the bubonic plague was in 1350 and it was famously called the Black Plague or the Black Death. It started in Asia this time before quickly spreading throughout all of Europe by rats. The plague claimed many victims, so many that there were corpses pilling up in the streets. Many people were buried in mass graves where someone digs a hole big enough to hold dozens of people. This plague seemed to stop everyone as they tried to control this huge outbreak. Many economies went down and people struggled to survive. According to the website American Scientist, the plague killed from 30 to 50 percent of the entire population of Europe. 

Once again, in 1665, the bubonic plague made another appearance. This time, it was London and was called the Great Plague of London. It led to twenty percent of London’s population to death and mass graves started again. Also, cats and dogs were getting slaughtered by the tens of thousands because people believed they were the cause of this terrible disease. The plague started to die down around 1666.

In 1817, the world saw the first of seven cholera outbreaks which would happen for the next 150 years. This disease in the small intestine originated in Russia and killed a million Russians. It was then passed to British soldiers who spread it to the rest of the world. Excluding Russia, the plague killed 150,000 people. Thankfully, a vaccine was created in 1885 but outbreaks continue to happen.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague rose again, this time in 1855. It started in China and spread by fleas this time. It claimed 15 million victims and would be considered active until 1960.

This disease caused 50 million deaths worldwide and had outbreaks in Europe, the US, and parts of Asia. The Spanish Flu hit in 1918 and spread very quickly since there were no effective antibiotics or vaccines to stop it. In the spring of 1918, it hit Madrid, Spain and was effectively called the Spanish Flu. By October, hundreds of thousands of Americans died but by the summer, the disease was gone as many people who had it got immunity or died. 

In 1981, AIDS was first identified. The disease would slowly kill a person’s immune system and the person would end up dying by diseases the body could usually fight off. It was majorly in the American gay community because it spread through certain body fluids but it was believed to have origninated from a chimpanzee virus from West Africa in the 1920s. It came to America around the 1960s/1970s but still affects many today. In an interview done by the Office of Women’s Health, they interviewed a young woman named Maria Mejia who has had AIDS for over ten years. When asked about misconceptions with AIDS, she said “The biggest misconception is that you are going to die! That your life is over and no one will ever love you with this condition! This is far from the truth.” Now, 35 millions people worldwide have died from this disease and a cure is yet to be found.

After several months of cases, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS was finally named. It is thought to have started with bats before spreading to other animals and then finally to humans. SARS’ symptoms include a dry cough, fever, aches, and respiratory problems. It infected 8,096 people but thankfully, quarantine seemed to do the job because by July, the virus was gone. However, it claimed 774 lives.

And finally, 2019. COVID-19 first appeared and quickly infected 118,000 people throughout many countries. The first reported case was on November 17, 2019, in China but was largely ignored. Eight more cases appeared after that before scientists realized it was an unknown disease. Symptoms include respiratory problems, a cough, a fever and it can be fatal. In an interview conducted by the American Society for Microbiology, they asked the president of the ASM, Robin Matel, M.D. about how to avoid getting COVID-19. She answered with, “The best way to prevent acquiring this virus is avoid contact with someone who has it. That’s where social distancing and hand hygiene come into play.” She also said, “Anyone can become infected, and anyone can transmit this virus to someone else.” Then, on March 11, 2020, the World Health organization declared it a pandemic and now, people around the world are stuck in quarantine. 

Diseases have been around since the beginning of time and at first, humans were unprepared and unsure of what to do. However, as time went on and humanity made huge strides in medicine, humans are now more prepared than ever to tackle this disease.