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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

1 out of every 20 people, dead in 3 months!

Posted by: Jambo / 12:06 AM

Wow, I never think of this sort of thing as being a part of the 20th century. I only associate death on this scale with infected rats from wooden sailing ships in the pre-industrial world. Amazing to think my grandparents all lived thru this event.

Guns, Germs, and Steel [a fantastic book BTW] emphasized the role that germs played in the clash of civilizations of the early modern period, say up to about 1700.  I was surprised to learn from John M. Barry's excellent book The Great Influenza that germs continued to have a disproprtionate influence on the civilizations well into the twentieth century and perhaps even today.

The great influenza of 1918 probably killed 100 million people, about five percent of the entire world's population.  An even higher percentage of young people died and most shockingly all of this occured in about 12 weeks.   Death was not evenly distributed:

"The Western world suffered the least, not because its medicine was so advanced but because urbanization had exposed its population to influenza viruses so immune systems were not naked to it.  In the United States, roughly 0.65 percent of the total population died, with roughly double that percentage of young adults killed.  Of developed countries, Italy suffered the worst, losing approximately 1 percent of its total population....

The virus simply ravaged the less developed world.  In Mexico the most conservative estimate of the death toll was 2.3 percent of the entire population, and other reasonable estimates put the death toll over 4 percent.  That means between 5 and 9 percent of all young adults died."

In even more remote areas the death toll was much higher. One doctor visiting Inuit in Alaska found everyone dead in 3 villages and 7 other villages with a death toll of 85%.  We don't know how many people died in India and China but the rates were certainly higher than in the more urban United States. 

It all makes me wonder if we are a little too complacent these days. Sure we've come a long way in 90 years, but have we come far enough?


I hope we have come far enough. Remember this?

"The virus that caused the 1957 “Asian flu” pandemic has been accidentally released by a lab in the US, and sent all over the world in test kits which scientists are now scrambling to destroy.

There are fears the virus could escape the labs, as the mistake was discovered after the virus escaped from a kit at a high-containment lab in Canada. Such an escape could spread worldwide, as demonstrated in Russia in the 1970s." (New Scientist, 4/13/2005)

And this . . .

Experts fear escape of 1918 flu from lab

. . .

"Yet despite the danger, researchers in the US are working with reconstructed versions of the virus at less than the maximum level of containment. Many other experts are worried about the risks. “All the virologists I have spoken to have concerns,” says Ingegerd Kallings of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control in Stockholm, who helped set laboratory safety standards for the World Health Organization." (

By Blogger Yelrom, at 9:31 AM  

Yikes! Well, I'm not too worried because we developed antibiotics decades ago. Since we have now broken free from our irrational belief in evolution we can sleep soundly knowing that all our old meds are still every bit as effective as ever and that unless god decides to create something new we have nothing to fear from all those old tired bugs. (Hey, Bill Frist said so and he should know. He's a Dr., you know.)

By Blogger Jambo, at 10:48 AM  

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