Germs in the Arsenal

Article by Elton Cornell

BUBONIC PLAGUE (BACTERIAL)
Estimated All-Time Death Toll: 250 MILLION

Transmitted through bites from fleas who became infected after sucking the blood of diseased rats, the bubonic plague almost wiped out Europe twice — during the Plague of Justinian (541-542), in which half of the continent’s population died, and during the more infamous “Black Death” (1346-1353), which by some estimates wiped out two-thirds of Europe’s entire population. The last great plague pandemic was in China during the 1850s and took out 12 million souls.

INFLUENZA (VIRAL)
Estimated All-Time Death Toll: 200 MILLION

History’s deadliest flu pandemic was the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918-1920, which infected one-third of the entire world’s population and killed anywhere from 50-100 million people. It coincided with World War I but almost doubled that bloody conflict’s overall death toll. It was so widespread that even the King of Spain and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson came down with the bug. There have been other flu pandemics such as the Russian Flu and the Hong Kong Flu, but none have come close to the Spanish Flu’s murderous ferocity.

TUBERCULOSIS (BACTERIAL)
Estimated All-Time Death Toll: 200 MILLION

Since it’s an airborne germ and the air is free, an estimated one in every three living humans has been exposed to TB. The infection will remain latent and non-transmissible in 90-95 percent of cases. But when the infection becomes active, symptoms include night sweats, chills, chest pain, and coughing up blood. If left untreated, TB can mean a quick trip to the grave.

CHOLERA (BACTERIAL)
Estimated All-Time Death Toll: 100 MILLION

Acquired primarily through contaminated water and causing dehydration, vomiting, and pale, slightly milky diarrhea, cholera has been documented since the time of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. It remained relatively quiet for several centuries, until a series of seven pandemics emerged from India’s Ganges River starting in 1817 and persisting through the 1900s. In the 1990s, a new strain of cholera was detected that may signal a looming eighth pandemic.

TYPHUS (BACTERIAL)
Estimated All-Time Death Toll: 50 MILLION

Typically spread via lice or fleas, dirty water, crowded jail cells, or other conditions involving poor sanitation, typhus starts off with flulike symptoms before causing telltale red dots to spread all over the body. The dots blossom into foul-smelling open sores while the victim’s mind unspools into feverish delirium. A slow, painful death follows. It’s suspected that typhus caused the Plague of Athens (430 B.C.), killing a quarter of the city’s population. As Napoleon retreated from Moscow in 1812, more of his soldiers died from typhus than were killed by Russians. Speaking of Russians, three million of them fell victim to typhus during World War I alone.

AIDS (VIRAL)
Estimated All-Time Death Toll: 40 MILLION

Believed to have first been transmitted from chimps to humans in West Africa in the 1920s, close to two-thirds of global HIV cases are still clustered in Africa. South of the Sahara, an estimated five percent of the population is currently HIV-positive, meaning the overall death toll may eclipse 90-100 million in the next five years. After emerging in Africa, the virus was spotted in Haiti in the 1960s, then moved quietly to New York and San Francisco in the 1970s. It finally made global headlines in the early 1980s when a mysterious “gay cancer” was correlated to a sudden spike in deaths among young gay men.

Not to make light of a horrible situation, but this article could help make your global protests a bit more effective. Just sayin’ ….

In an era of "weaponized" everything, talking about germs almost seems anticlimatic. Yet history always provides insights if one is willing to listen closely.

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