Think back to the beginning of 2020. No one was talking about social distancing and pandemics. In fact, most of us didn’t even know what any of that mean. A few months later, the world has literally changed and we all have more medical knowledge than we did before. However, there could still be some lingering questions and confusion about what is happening from a historical perspective. Are we living in a pandemic or a plague? Which is worse? Here’s what it all means:
Before you can have a pandemic, you have an epidemic. Both refer to the rapid spread of a disease. The difference is the size. An epidemic is when that disease is isolated to a specific area. For instance, last year we had a severe flu epidemic. That strain of flu popped up all across the county but it didn’t “hop” over to other countries. When that happens, it becomes a pandemic. For the record, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus an official pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Also for the record, a coronavirus refers to a virus that originates in animals and is spread to humans. This type of virus causes respiratory infections. The current strain that we’re dealing with is COVID-19. That is not because there have been eighteen previous strains (there might have been) but because this disease was first identified in 2019.
Along Comes The Plague
A plague can also be consider a kind of pandemic but it actually refers to a specific medical disease. That disease relates to a type of bacteria called Yersinia pestis. Within that category there are three kinds of plague. The most infamous is the bubonic plague. This was what caused the Black Death of history and is caused by fleas who are infected by rats that carry the bacteria. It is a nasty disease that triggers growths around the body.
The other two types of plague are pneumonic and septicemic. Pneumonic plague is an airborne bacteria that takes direct aim at the lungs as opposed to the lymph glands. The worst kind of plague is septicemic. This plague infects the blood directly and a person who catches it usually ends up dead within 24-hours. Thankfully, that type of plague is also the rarest.
The Black Plague or Black Death spread through Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. It goes its name from the 12 ships that arrived from the Black Sea and docked in Sicily. When folks turned up the great the ships, they found most of the crews dead and the survivors covered in boils. The authorities tried to turn the ships back but it was too late. Over the next five years, 20 million people would die from this plague. It also triggered the quarantine policy. Quarantine is Italian for 40 days. When a new shipped arrived in a port, the crew and cargo would have to stay on board for 40 days. If they were healthy after the quarantine, then they could disembark. Today, the word quarantine means any period of isolation