Swine Flu Shows How We Live In Good Times

BBC via Instapundit:

Readers in Mexico have been emailing the BBC describing the sense of fear gripping the country as a result of a flu virus outbreak, which has so far claimed more than 80 lives.

Well, that’s from Mexico so the number might be anything from 8 to 800 but still isn’t it a marvel that we live in age when we even deign to notice a mere 80 deaths in a place a couple of thousand miles away? 

Being able to fret about just one serious communicable disease is a luxury beyond price. 

Scientific and technological history is a passion of mine, so I’ve read a lot about medical history. Well up until WWII and the development of antibiotics and mass vaccinations, our forbearers suffered through plague after plague of such scale that they make even AIDS look trivial by comparison. 

Ever hear of Yellow fever? This is what having it is like:

Yellow fever begins suddenly after an incubation period of three to five days in the human body. In mild cases only fever and headache may be present. Within 24 hours about 15% develop a more severe form, in which they enter the “toxic phase” characterized by fever, chills, bleeding into the skin, paradoxically slow heartbeat, headache, back pains, and extreme prostration.[11]Nausea, vomiting, and constipation are common. Jaundice usually appears on the second or third day. After the third day the symptoms recede, only to return with increased severity in the final stage, during which there is a marked tendency to hemorrhage internally; the characteristic “coffee ground” vomitus contains blood. The patient then lapses into delirium and coma, followed by death in about 50% of those who enter the toxic phase.[12] During epidemics a much higher proportion have entered the toxic phase, and the fatality rate has been as high as 85%.

Now imagine this:

Yellow fever cases were probably developing on the fringes of Memphis [pop est 40,000] as early as late July [1878], and by August 13 the first death was reported in the city itself. With the horrors of the 1873 epidemic fresh on their minds, roughly 25,000 residents fled the city within two weeks. The fever raged in Memphis until mid-October, infecting over 17,000 and killing 5,150. Over 90 percent of whites who remained contracted yellow fever, and roughly 70 percent of these died. Long thought to be immune to the disease, blacks contracted the fever in large numbers as well in 1878, although only 7 percent of infected blacks died. While there is still no consensus among experts explaining this racial disparity in mortality rates, it is likely that repeated exposure to yellow fever over many generations in West Africa provided many blacks with a higher resistance to the disease.

Ever heard of this catastrophe? Did you read about it in your history books? Probably not, unless you studied Tennessee’s 19th century history or medical history in detail. Why don’t histories, especially histories written in the decades immediately after the plague, pay any attention to it? Why wasn’t this the event we associate with the 1870s?

Because the yellow fever outbreak, bad as it was, wasn’t that unusual for its day. Yellow fever, malaria, small pox, Cholera and many, many more diseases swept through virtually every community on a fairly regular basis. Every adult everywhere had lived through one or more major epidemics. The tragedy of Memphis got headlines the way a hurricane does today, but five years later people largely forgot about it as each year brought its own crop of new plagues. The devastation of Memphis simply did not stand out enough from all the other plagues to warrant mention in the general history books. 

So yeah, Swine flu can be fairly nasty, and yeah it can spread fast thanks to modern transportation, but our forbearers wouldn’t even have noticed it as an annoyance. We should all be grateful we live in an age when such a minor communicable disease causes us concern. 

18 thoughts on “Swine Flu Shows How We Live In Good Times”

  1. As Swine Flu is spread by human to human contact, and children are the # 1 spreaders of germs, it becomes imperative to educate children on how germs are spread.
    Young children don’t spread germs because they want to, they don’t know how NOT to.
    Germy Wormy Germ Smart for Kids educates and entertains kids while teaching them how to NOT spread germs.
    Please pass along to anyone who has young children and is concerned about the spread of the Swine Flu

  2. I am currently reading “Ship of Ghosts” by James Hornfischer (review to come) and the diseases that were fought on a routine basis by our Pacific Theater POW’s in WW2 were horrible. Malaria, beri-beri, tropical ulcers, dysentery, just to name a few of the biggies. Of course the Japanese provided zero medicine and the doctors had to rely mostly on folk cures, or just try things with what they had and hope for the best. The biggest fear of all was cholera, though – which could easily wipe out a whole POW camp very quickly.

  3. Just wonder how that compares with the number of deaths per day of various forms of violence in Mexico City, something that, certainly on this side of the pond, we do not notice at all.

  4. > As Swine Flu is spread by human to human contact, and children are the # 1 spreaders of germs, it becomes imperative to educate children on how germs are spread.

    Or there’s always the Modest Proposal solution.


  5. This, by the way, is why the story that white slave traders marched off into the African interior to take slaves is a fiction. There’s a reason that West Africa was known as “the white man’s graveyard”.

  6. Arthur Kelley,

    This, by the way, is why the story that white slave traders marched off into the African interior to take slaves is a fiction.

    That is true but yellow fever is also the reason that European’s bought the slaves that Africans offered at their long established costal slave markets. Long before the slave trade developed, Portuguese traders accidently bought yellow fever to the New World were it spread quickly. Native Americans with their lack of genetic diversity suffered from its effects even worse than whites. It was nearly impossible to maintain a working population free, indentured or slave without a population of people genetically resistant to yellow fever. This is the primary reason that European began buying slaves from Africa instead of impressing the poor of Europe or the native populations.

    One must suppose a certain amount of horrified schadenfreude on the part of Memphis’s African-American population. Certainly watching the whites drop like flies must have seemed like divine retribution or at least it would have had not such plagues been so common. In the end African-Americans kept the city running and they saved the lives of thousands of whites who would have perished from neglect had not the African-Americans remained by their sides and tended them. With 70% of the white population affected, there wasn’t enough white manpower to care for the ill.

  7. Less than what good times we live in it shows what timorous self-cen tered beings we have become. 80 people die in Mexico City and Europeans are being warned not to travel to the US? It certainly has little to do with the deaths of fellow humans. 2.2 million children will die from diarrhoea and related diseases this year.

    80% of them in the first two years of their life;
    42,000 a week,
    6,000 a day,
    four every minute,
    one every fourteen seconds.

  8. Ms. Davis,

    Yes, people do seem to take diseases that might infect them more seriously. It’s natural I suppose but one would like to think we’ve made more progress.

  9. Jimbino,

    Mrs Davis, to save lives and save the planet: don’t breed

    If only Homo erectus had thought of that we wouldn’t have any of the problems we see in the modern world. On the other hand, people were dying by the truck load of communicable disease when earth only had 50 million humans. The only thing that has happened in during human progress is that some humans have stopped dying of diseases. That has happened as the population has exploded so I think your idea has a couple of holes.

  10. I asked my dad, the doctor, once, “Tell me about the good old days.” He replied, ” Before penicillin there were no good old days.”

  11. Tyree,

    The early 20th century was a pretty horrible time to be a doctor. You could diagnose communicable diseases precisely and tell exactly what was killing people but you couldn’t do squat about it. I think that might be the reason so many doctors got involved in progressive politics that lead to water treatment and sometimes draconian public health powers. Stopping people from getting disease was the best they could do.

  12. On page 138 of the book “MURDER BY INJECTION: THE STORY OF THE MEDICAL CONSPIRACY AGAINST AMERICA” by EUSTACE MULLINS, it mentions something called the ‘Great Swine Flu Massacre’ in the 1970s in which drug manufacturers developed a vaccine for pigs. According to the book, the vaccine was rejected by pigs farmers, but was later marketed for human use. During the Gerald Ford administration, a vaccination program was developed in which 40 million people participated. The vaccine was discontinued due to subsequent illnesses being reported from its use.

  13. Tim,

    I suggest that you not place your trust in self-published books by conspiracy nuts.

    The Swine-Flu vaccine produced in the 70’s was human specific and was rushed into production within 3 months following the discovery of swine flu in soldiers at Fort Dix in Jan 1976. It did present an elevated risk of provoking Guillain-Barre syndrome, a treatable autoimmune reaction but different batches of vaccines present different risk.

    In the end, Swine-Flu proved not to be anywhere as dangerous as the 1918 influenza which it resembled and the vaccination program was shutdown.

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