How Humans Have Reacted To Pandemics Through History – A Visual GuideHistorians in the News
tags: public health, medieval history, plague, pandemics, medical history
Some medical historians suggest that the study of earlier pandemics can enhance our insight into the context around infectious diseases in the 21st century.
Monica H Green, a professor of medical history, says historical analysis of even the first plague pandemic can help our understanding of how disease moves today. “Bacterial pandemics are different to viral pandemics, but they still move to human populations. In terms of human activity and the way humans respond to threats and change, the study of ancient plagues can enrich our understanding.”
In this final section, Dr Caitjan Gainty, a historian of 20th-century medicine and technology at King’s College London, provides a historical perspective on four pandemics of the past century, highlighting some points of comparison in terms of how we think – and talk – about disease.
Our graphic below indicates the scale of deaths associated with these four selected pandemics, including the first four months of the coronavirus.
Between 20 million and 50 million people were recorded to have died during the Spanish flu, the most devastating influenza pandemic of the past century. For Gainty, one of the most striking comparisons is the public health response:
“During the Spanish flu pandemic, they quarantined. They erected emergency hospitals. They had arguments about the usefulness of masks. Amid all of the remarkable progress we’ve seen in other areas of health, our public health response is largely unchanged. Our expectations about public health are remarkably different from other areas of healthcare.”
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