Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Bacteria gone viral, a history lesson

Wick's World


Viruses and bacterial infections have been on the planet as long as there have been humans; actually I should say they have been here much longer than we have and probably will be here long after we as a species are extinguished.

Hopefully the human will not die out as a species because of an unwanted lethal virus, however, there is one out there today that is so toxic that when it raises its ugly head, the mortality rate among humans approaches 100 percent. The virus is called Ebola and it is back in the news.

The deadliest Ebola outbreak since 2007 has cause for alarm. Already 70 people have died in Guinea and the situation is serious enough that neighboring Senegal has closed its border. Bats are a suspected carrier of the virus and unfortunately, bats have also been a staple in the diets among several African nations. There is no known treatment or vaccine for Ebola.

Humans have forever lived with viruses and bacterial infections — some only bothersome enough to cause the flu or a cold. One, however, was so deadly that it killed an estimated 25 million-30 million Europeans and 75 million people worldwide. It rode into the west on 12 Genoese ships that arrived in Messina, Sicily, in October 1347. The flotilla came from the east and near east carrying a sickly and lifeless crew that harbored an infection called “The Black Death.”

Scientifically, it arrived in the form of a bacillus called Yersina pestis, also commonly known as the Bubonic Plague. The bacterial infection had been around the planet long before the outbreak in Europe.

Five centuries before the birth of Christ, the Greek city of Athens was almost entirely destroyed by an illness that was thought to be the plague. However, modern scientists admit that in the case of Athens, the disease could have easily been measles or smallpox.

A thousand years later, Constantinople, which is modern day Istanbul, was losing 5,000 residents per day to the plague. Before it subsided, almost half of its population was decimated.

Although The Black Death in Europe ran its course in about five years, it returned every generation until the 18th century. It is still lying mostly dormant in the American Southwest, Africa and Asia.

Marseilles, France, lost 100,000 inhabitants from 1720-22, but soon had the illness controlled through legislation. Parliament had a plague wall built and made it punishable by death for anyone to cross it. Drastic times call for drastic measures and it worked. By 1765, its population had totally rebounded to pre-plague levels.

A century earlier, The Great Plague of London also took out 100,000 residents and just a few years before that, The Italian Plague claimed the lives of a quarter million residents of northern Italy. Although The Black Death was quick to kill once a person was infected, it certainly was not a pleasant way to die. In addition to facing almost certain death, the populace lived their lives in fear of the unknown. Nobody knew how they caught the disease and nobody knew how to cure it. People simply lived from day to day never knowing if it would be their last. What a frightening prospect.

On that pleasant note, I hope I have cheered you up. Take pleasure in your day and especially this fine blossoming spring weather we are enjoying here in the Northland.


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