A little perspective helps

What's worse?  The rapid spread of a novel virus that originated in China or the media hysteria created and broadcast around the world?  If it was the intent of the American media to create a state of fear and panic, they've succeeded brilliantly.  The dissemination of information pertinent to the virus has morphed into a murky river of rumors, innuendo, outright lies, and blather proffered by pundits who are neither doctors nor experts on much of anything other than opinionating.  Despite the media hype, COVID-19 is not the first world pandemic, and it won't be the last.  As long as humans have walked the earth, deadly contagions have existed.  During some of the most virulent periods in history, entire populations were wiped out.  A sense of perspective is now warranted.

From the first recorded pandemic in 430 B.C. to present day, communicable disease has ravaged the health and well-being of mankind.  When humans transitioned from hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago to an agrarian lifestyle, communal living made the transmission of deadly diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, and smallpox much more prolific.  As trade between different regions of the world spread, so did disease and the pandemics that followed.  In fact, trade routes, the building of cities, and wars provided numerous pathogens a reliable modem to infect and kill millions.  In short, as civilizations rose and prospered, plagues and pandemics struck them down.  The 430 B.C. pandemic in Athens was suspected to be typhoid fever, originating in Northern Africa, which passed over the Mediterranean Sea via soldiers on ships bound for Greece during the Peloponnesian War.  As many as two thirds of the population died.  This plague was followed by:

  • The Antigone Plague — 165 A.D. (thought to be smallpox)
  • The Cyprian Plague — 249 to 262 A.D (also thought to be smallpox)
  • The Justinian Plague — 541 A.D. (first appearance of Bubonic Plague; 50 million dead)
  • 11th-Century Leprosy — Pandemic in Europe during the Middle Ages
  • Black Death — 1350 (second appearance of Bubonic Plague; 75 to 200 million dead)
  • The Columbian Exchange — 1492 (transmission of European plagues to the Americas)
  • First Cholera Epidemic — 1817 (First of seven recorded cholera epidemics around the world)
  • Third Bubonic Plague — 1855 (originated in China; spread to India; 15 million dead)
  • Fiji Measles Plague — 1875 (killed one third of the Fijian population)
  • First Russian Flu Pandemic — 1889 (began in Russian; 360,000 dead)
  • The Spanish Flu — 1918 (worldwide pandemic; estimated 50 to 100 million dead)
  • The Asian Flu — 1957 to 1958 (originated in Hong Kong, 1.1 million dead)
  • HIV/AIDS — 1981 to present day (originated in West Africa; 35 million dead to date)
  • SARS — 2003 (originated in China; spread to 29 countries; 744 dead)
  • H1N1 (Swine Flu) — 2009 (originated in Central Mexico; 150,000 to 575,000 dead)
  • MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) — 2012 to 2019 (27 countries; 858 dead)
  • Ebola — 1976 to present day (originated in Central Africa; spread to West Africa in 2014 to 2016; resurfaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018; estimated 9,000 dead) 

As of this writing and according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker, updated in real time, there are 7,516 deaths worldwide due to COVID-19.  A majority of those deaths occurring in China, Italy, and Iran.  There are currently a bit fewer than 200,000 cases also reported worldwide.  Those numbers will rise.  Will there be more deaths before the virus has "washed over" and the curve of infected people is finally flattened?  No doubt, but tens or hundreds of millions of fatalities won't happen, thanks to modern medicine and the ability of governments to respond immediately to the pandemic.  Vaccine testing is underway, while social distancing, closure of schools and public gathering places, and cancelation of sporting events, coupled with work-from-home arrangements and the quarantine of infected individuals, will help to help stem the spread of the virus.  

Whether or not the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan province wet market, possibly transmitted to human hosts via the consumption of infected animals, or was accidently leaked from a Chinese infectious disease research facility may never be determined.  The Chinese government won't be forthcoming.  The coronavirus won't be the last pandemic in human history, but the number of fatalities will be greatly diminished by 21st-century medical technology, research, and vaccines.  It's also worth mentioning that in comparison, deaths in the United States due to influenza have already topped 20,000 for the 2019–2020 flu season — for which there has been no media hype or panic.  

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