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Pandemic

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Pandemic

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									Pandemic
A pandemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that spreads across a large region, a continent,
or even the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a pandemic can start
when three conditions have been met: the emergence of a disease new to the population, a
disease that infects humans, causing serious illness, and one that spreads easily and persists
among humans. A disease is not a pandemic because it is widespread or kills a large number of
people. It must also be infectious. For example, cancer is responsible for a large number of
deaths but is not considered a pandemic. The plague of Justinian in the sixth century that
devastated the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in Constantinople was the first well-known
pandemic in Europe. It also marks the first detailed record of the bubonic plague that later would
be known in London as the Black Death. In Constantinople, while Justinian was the Roman
Emperor, large quantities of grain were shipped from Egypt and it is thought that the disease was
brought into Europe via rat and flea populations in the grain.

The bubonic plague came to be known in London, England, as the Black Death of 1664 because
of the black boils in the armpits, neck, and groin of infected people, which were caused by dried
blood accumulating under the skin after internal bleeding. People first experienced the bacterium
of Black Death as chills, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Frequently the disease spread to the lungs
and, almost always in these cases, the victims died soon afterward. For reasons unknown at the
time some people never caught the disease even though they were in close contact with those
who had. In 2005 Dr. Stephen O’Brien of the National Institutes of Health in Washington D.C.
searched for descendants of those seventeenth century survivors. He was able to locate a number
of them and from those people he took blood samples and recorded their DNA. Dr. O’Brien had
been working with HIV patients and to his great surprise he discovered that the critical gene that
saved the lives of Black Death survivors was the same gene that today enables people infected
with the HIV virus to survive.

It is known by the common name Delta 32. In the twenty-first century two well-known
experiences of pandemics, one closely related to terrorism and one accidental, illustrate the
nature of this problem in contemporary society. The anthrax series of events that hit the United
States in the same year as the terrorist attacks of September 11 was clearly an attempt to terrify
the leadership of the nation because it was directed at government, media, and communications
in general. In mid October, a few weeks after the devastation of 9/11 when the World Trade
Center towers were destroyed and the Pentagon hit, letters containing anthrax spores began to
arrive at various United States media centers and government offices in Washington, D.C. A
photo editor in a Florida news agency was the first to be affected. He opened an envelope that
arrived on October 15 and unknowingly inhaled some of the anthrax that fell out. Several days
passed before the contents of the envelope were tested and identified. By then it was too late to
do anything for the photo editor. He died two weeks later. By the end of October 2001, five
people were dead from anthrax. The White House mail was quarantined and several government
offices locked in order to check for spores while their staffs met elsewhere. For the first time in
its history the Supreme Court convened away from its own chambers. The State Department cut
off all mail to its 240 embassies and consulates worldwide.
The other pandemic, first known as “The Scars Epidemic,” appeared toward the end of the year
2002. It was a deadly form of pneumonia that appeared in southern China and quietly spread,
ignored for a long time, and during that period of time spread within China and to various places
around the world. As its deadly nature became clear to public authorities, it was given the name
“Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SCARS)” and fears arose that it might be a repeat of the
1918 flu pandemic. When the World Health Organization investigated the disease they found
that the majority of cases occurred in food handlers and chefs in the Guangdong Province of
Southern China who were engaged in a particular kind of food preparation and delivery. These
workers were always in close contact with exotic snakes and birds that were kept alive and killed
immediately before being served to customers. Once the nature and characteristics of the disease
was defined and isolation of patients became standard practice around the world SCARS slowly
disappeared.

The present fear of a human pandemic stems from the appearance of a new virus in birds that
quickly causes death. As soon as it is observed in flocks of poultry the whole flock is killed. This
virus has already mutated so that a few humans have caught it. The mutated strain has been
analyzed and found to be without any parallel to previous viruses. That means humans have no
immunity to use against it and this is why the few who have contracted it died quickly. In 2005
the United Nations General Assembly called for immediate international mobilization against
this new avian flu because of the possibility of a mutation appearing that would spread easily
from human to human. The present mutation does not do that. So far, the number of humans that
have died from the disease is less than a hundred and they are almost all in Asia. There are fears
that this virus might become a pandemic like the one of 1918. That flu pandemic originated from
birds just as this one has. Fortunately, to date, it has not yet mutated into the form that the 1918
one took and which led to the deaths of tens of millions of people all over he world. This present
virus could be worse than that of 1918 because, while there is much greater knowledge on how
to cope with it, there is at the same time far greater and more frequent travel around the world.

								
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