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Plagues of the past

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A look back at past pandemics in the Near East - some interesting observations from history and archaeology, as well as a look at pandemics since 1918.


"Global pandemics such as that being experienced today are not uncommon, but they typically occurred with a frequency outside individual perception. Much attention has suddenly been focused on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 that killed at least 100 million people worldwide, including almost 700,000 in the US. Less has been said about the Asian Flu that emerged in China in the winter of 1957 and which reached the US that summer. At least a million people died, some 116,000 in the US. For whatever reason, the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 is barely remembered by most people, perhaps because of its low mortality rate.

There are many contrasts between those three events, not least the speed of their spread. The impact of the Spanish Flu played out catastrophically over three years; today, in a span of perhaps three months, the coronavirus that originated in China has spread across the entire world. Globalization, that is to say the spread of trade and tourism, personal movement and mass migration, individual processes that once took years now take days or even hours.


But the 1918 virus – novel influenza A or H1N1 – was the ancestor of most of the 20th century’s influenza pandemics, all the way to 2009s. Though beyond the individual experience, it was in effect a single, long event."





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