A History of Epidemics

The Covid-19 Epidemic Was Just One of Many Outbreaks

We’ve all heard about the Bubonic Plague in Medieval Europe, and even more recently in Daniel Defoe’s London (see A Journal of the Plague Year). Probably the worst were the combined plagues brought to the New World by the Spanish and the Portuguese. The native Meso-American population was to drop by more than 80% due to the combined ravages of smallpox, measles, and malaria (the latter was brought in with black slaves from Africa).

In more recent times, the British Isles have been ravaged by cholera. In his The Victorians, historian A. N. Wilson writes: “After 1832, there were to be three major cholera epidemics in Britain: 1848-9, 1853-4 and 1866. The first of these killed 53,000 in England and Wales, 8,000 in Scotland; the next killed 26,000—but 10,000 in London.”

More recently, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 infected approximately one-third of the world’s population and killed 50 million worldwide.

It is fortunate that vaccinations to fight Covid-19 have been developed. The pity of it is that many of the poorer nations do not have the vaccine, and many of the richer nations are populated by ignorant doofuses who refuse to be vaccinated.

Plague Diary 23: An Etymological Curiosity

A Look Back to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

I was scanning the channels early this evening when I made a surprising discovery. There seems to be a term from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that has become part of our language. The “crawl” on one of the news stations casually mentioned that the term “slacker” derived from scofflaws during the pandemic that refused to wear face masks.

According to the Saturday Evening Post website, then, as now, there was an organized resistance to wearing masks:

[T]he Influenza pandemic of 1918, triggered a comparable patchwork of ordinances and ensuing economic fallout. Some Americans’ reactions a century ago took similar form, particularly a group of fed up San Franciscans who called themselves the “Anti-Mask League.” Although San Francisco saw one of the worst U.S. outbreaks of the pandemic, these dissidents opposed orders from the city’s Board of Health not because of the economic implications, but because they saw it as their right to walk the city maskless. Besides, they didn’t think the things were working anyway.

The more things change, the more hey remain the same. The members of the Anti-Mask League were referred to as slackers.

From the Enid Daily Eagle of September 25, 1918

There are, of course, some differences between the coronavirus and the outbreak following the First World War. All I can do is re-iterate the warning from the newspaper clip above:

Don’t get “scared.”