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March 12, 2020 Thursday 11:03:52 PM IST

Common Factors in Epidemic Outbreaks-Historical View

Health Monitor

According to history, when Homo sapiens first appeared on earth, the likelihood of a pandemic disease causing massive casualties was very low. This is mainly because the Homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers who lived in small disconnected groups and rarely ever came in contact with others. 

For a disease to spread, it needs a population living in close contact with each other. This was not possible during the times of the Homo sapiens, as the disease would not have the time to mutate and evolve to become fatalistic. When an illness arose, it would only affect a group or two. 

Things changed with the invention of farming; humans began forgoing their nomadic lifestyle. With the new sedentary lifestyle came newer problems which were caused by-

● decline of hygiene

● malnutrition

● living close to the livestock

● polluted water supply

The concept of hygiene itself was something yet to be discovered. So the lack of it created the perfect setup for diseases to evolve and spread, as humans started settling in close quarters. 

How? One may think. Humans and livestock polluted their own water supplies with their own bodily wastes, making cholera a common disease. Fleas and rats began breeding abundantly due to which plagues originated and became one of the deadliest diseases to affect mankind across the world.    

Afro-Eurasia has been one of the first regions to adopt agrarian lifestyles, it has also for most of the history contained around 90% of the population of the world. So historically it was also the hotbed of diseases, as here they could grow and become more menacing.

The epicenter of any pandemic in human history has a common factor; a dense population living in poor conditions. 

Smallpox found its way all the way to Australia from Afro-Eurasia through the Europeans. The outbreak in 1789 reduced the indigenous population from 65-90 % in the next century.  

The Spanish flu, (called so because only Spain had no press censorship during the WWI and reported about it) began in the terrible conditions of the military trenches and bases, and spread across the world through the troops, returning home. Australia at that time mostly connected by sea had enough time to prepare and the entire country was quarantined. 

The current coronavirus (Covid-19) first mutated in Hubei province, inland and heavily agrarian, with a population of 59 million. The current coronavirus appears to be fast-spread and low-mortality. It can be handled provided a region has adequate healthcare, though this could change if the disease continues to spread. Throughout history, the worst pandemics arose because people were living in poor conditions in which diseases could mutate. As long as such regions exist in the world, another devastating pandemic is inevitable. Improvement in the standard of living and avoidance of war is the best way to prevent a 'superbug' arising in any region and killing millions or billions globally.

(Originally Written by David Baker, a Lecturer in the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University, Australia.  Edited and published from )