Rodents, and Cows, and Shrimp, Oh My

People’s fascination with diseases goes back to the ancient times and has not subsided since. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from diagnosing people with unbalanced humors and treatments consisting of ingesting various animal parts and light mutilation. As someone who is also interested in history, I thought it may be interesting to discuss diseases that have drastically altered the course of history in ways that people may not realize.

  1. Bubonic plague-carried around by flea infested rodents, the plague spread throughout much of Asia around 1336. Making its way along the Silk Road, it spread to India and surrounding countries by 1346. By October of 1437, the plague had reached Europe. Current research has indicated that between 40-50% of Europe, and 75-80% of Spain perished. This caused massive social and economic change that would shape the future of Europe. A weakened feudal system allowed peasants more control and social movement that they would not quickly forget when their landowners tried to regain control. A historical nightmare to be sure yet new cases arise every year.
  2. Smallpox-one of the few diseases that scientists have managed to eradicate, smallpox was once rampant among much of the world. Thought to have originated somewhere in Egypt, it made its way to India, China, Japan, and finally Europe where it would cause the death of millions. Brought to America by colonizers, it decimated native populations and the shaped the path for the 13 colonies.
  3. Cholera-likely to have originated in the India subcontinent and spread throughout the world, it was the cause of seven pandemics and still persists today as an epidemic in many developing nations. It became the first reportable disease in America due to its prevalence in the population. Although seemingly easy to prevent with the advent of proper waste disposal and clean water, it remains a serious problem in places without these amenities. Due to its prevalence, many new scientific advances have come from finding treatments and vaccines.

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