December 1, 2023

The Forgotten Pandemic That Almost Wiped Out Homo Sapiens

According to the World Health Organization the estimated world wide deaths from COVID-19 was in the millions.

With the latest COVID-19 deaths reported to WHO now exceeding 3.3 million, based on the excess mortality estimates produced for 2020, we are likely facing a significant undercount of total deaths directly and indirectly attributed to COVID-19.

COVID-19 deaths are a key indicator to track the evolution of the pandemic. However, many countries still lack functioning civil registration and vital statistics systems with the capacity to provide accurate, complete and timely data on births, deaths and causes of death. A recent assessment of health information systems capacity in 133 countries found that the percentage of registered deaths ranged from 98% in the European region to only 10% in the African region.

Countries also use different processes to test and report COVID-19 deaths, making comparisons difficult. To overcome these challenges, many countries have turned to excess mortality as a more accurate measure of the true impact of the pandemic.

We will never know the true death toll, but even if total deaths are far higher than the WHO estimates, as a percentage of world population the number of deaths at 3 million is a statistically insignificant 0.000375%.

So, yes, it could have been much worse.  The 14th century witnessed a pandemic of epic size that almost wiped out humanity.

The COVID-19 epidemic left millions dead yet it was a minor event compared to past pandemics.

The Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was a devastating pandemic that occurred in Europe during the 14th century. It is believed to have started in the early 1340s and continued to affect Europe until the early 1350s.

Estimates of the death toll from the Black Death vary, but it is widely believed to have killed a significant portion of Europe’s population during that time. Some estimates suggest that it may have wiped out as much as 30% to 60% of Europe’s population. However, the exact number of casualties is difficult to determine with precision due to limited historical records from that period.

The Black Death was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which was transmitted to humans through fleas that infested rats. It resulted in three major forms of the disease: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. The pandemic had a profound impact on European society, including economic, social, and religious consequences, and it remains one of the most catastrophic pandemics in human history.

The exact reasons for the end of the bubonic plague pandemic in Europe during the 14th century are not definitively known, but several factors likely contributed to its decline:

  1. Herd Immunity: As a significant portion of the population was exposed to and either died from or survived the plague, a degree of immunity developed within the surviving population. This made it more difficult for the disease to spread rapidly.
  2. Behavioral Changes: The catastrophic impact of the plague led to changes in behavior. People became more aware of hygiene, sanitation, and the dangers of overcrowding, which may have reduced the transmission of the disease.
  3. Quarantine Measures: Some cities and regions implemented quarantine measures to isolate infected individuals and prevent the spread of the disease. This may have helped contain outbreaks.
  4. Natural Evolution of the Bacterium: The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which causes the bubonic plague, may have evolved to become less virulent over time, which could have contributed to a reduction in the severity of outbreaks.
  5. Climate and Environmental Factors: Changes in climate and environmental conditions, including changes in rat and flea populations, may have played a role in reducing the prevalence of the disease.
  6. Immigration and Trade: Reduced trade and immigration due to the pandemic may have limited the movement of infected individuals and rats, which could have slowed the spread of the disease.
  7. Isolation of Infected Areas: Some affected regions became isolated due to the impact of the plague, which limited interactions with neighboring areas and slowed transmission.

It’s important to note that the decline of the bubonic plague in the 14th century was a complex process influenced by multiple factors, and the pandemic did not completely disappear. Outbreaks continued to occur in various parts of Europe and other regions for centuries afterward, albeit with less frequency and lower mortality rates.

Additionally, advancements in medical knowledge and public health measures in subsequent centuries helped to better understand and control the disease. Today, antibiotics are effective in treating bubonic plague, which is now a rare and treatable disease when diagnosed promptly.

Could another pandemic wiped out hundred of millions of people?  Many experts say yes and if it comes we will be just as unprepared as we were in 2020.