Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The Smallest Assassin
Found in the remains of Egyptian mummies and all over ancient Asia and China, the virus has probably killed more people than wars, famine, and drought have done. Epidemics in Europe during the Middle Ages affected the course of western history. Outbreaks of small pox started the decline of the Roman Empire and, once transported to the New World, succeeded in wiping-out most of the native population. During the early 1700’s in Europe as many as 400,000 people died annually—about the population of Minneapolis.
The war on small pox started with the practice of inoculation against the disease. Medical practitioners took the practice from Istanbul to Western Europe and then to the United States by the mid-1700’s. The process involved pricking the skin of a person and infecting them with a small amount of pox. It caused them to become slightly ill but also made them immune to the more serious disease when it struck.
During the American Revolution the Continental army attacked the British city of Quebec. They came close to succeeding until an outbreak of small pox stopped them. The British army had been inoculated, avoided the plague, and repulsed the American’s attack for good.
Edward Jenner didn’t actually discover the vaccine used against small pox, but he was the first scientist to attempt to control an infectious disease—and he was successful.
Everyone in the world is vulnerable.
What really scares me—and readers also—is that the “enemy” here is something you can’t see, touch, feel, or smell…how do you defend against it? Also, once the population learns about the spread of small pox, I think the panic will be worse than the disease itself.