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  • Foto del escritorDiana Sofia Mollocana

On epidemics and pandemics: those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it

Actualizado: 29 abr 2023

"The pandemic that has just swept the earth is unprecedented. There have been more deadly epidemics in our history, but they have been more circumscribed; there have been epidemics almost as widespread, but they have been less lethal. Floods, famines, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions have written their stories in terms of human destruction practically too terrible to comprehend, but never before has there been a catastrophe so sudden, so devastating and so universal”

There were three significant factors that led to the emergence of a pandemic. The first one: public indifference, which, even at its height, continued to ignore the danger. Mainly, due to a wide range in the manifestation of symptoms that went from pneumonia to total absence of them. There are still profound doubts about the factors that aggravate viral infection in patients since there are those who barely show any symptoms, while there are also those who see their lives with the disease become extinct.

As a second factor, there are the measures used for eradication. We have already gone through hazardous situations with diseases such as smallpox, measles, or scarlet fever, where direct contact between people was the leading cause of contagion. However, transmission in the case of respiratory infections is a different story, since it does not depend only on contact between individuals but also on the aspiration of aerosol droplets generated in the environment due to sneezing or coughing, or touching surfaces contaminated by them. Moreover, measures to prevent infection do not fall on healthy individuals, but on those who are already sick.

Those who are susceptible to contracting the virus can do very little to protect themselves if there are people who are already infected but consider them to be "healthy" or have only slight colds, so they do not isolate themselves from others.

For this reason, the third risk factor is the incubation period, which varies considerably; in some infections, it can be as short as a day or two. And the disease may be transmissible before the patient him or herself is aware that he is being attacked.

Experts continue to wonder if there will be a new wave of this pathogen. However, "we are still too close to this event to understand its true magnitude."

Although the above lines sound similar to those phenomena that we are experiencing worldwide at present, the information presented in this blog was not elaborated referring to the COVID-19, but to the Spanish Flu pandemic during the years 1918-1920. Precisely, it was written for Science Magazine, in its launch on Friday, May 30th, 1919, by the health engineer George A. Soper, who also wrote advice as if he were speaking directly to the people of our times: breathe properly, eat healthily, wash your hands, do not share cutlery or napkins, isolate the symptomatic, use safety masks only in case you have symptoms, among others. He mentioned something interesting, and that is that respiratory infections will be with us all our lives and that pandemics of this type will be a constant. Because of a curse perhaps, as many conspiracy supporters claim?

The truth is that no, it is not a succession of devastating diseases in the 20's of every century, but a warning based on our habits.

In 2014, Bill Gates echoed this as well in a TEDx talk entitled "The Next Outbreak? We're Not Ready" where he stated something similar to what Soper did almost a century ago: There is more investment in war and missiles but nearly nothing in trained personnel and health systems that can cope with the next epidemics and pandemics.

It is estimated that there are between 3 and 3 billion viruses in wildlife that could accidentally jump to humans and any of them, continuing a pattern of indifference, little or no investment in health (not only in infrastructure but also in personnel) and unjustified depredation of natural resources, Any one of them could be the cause of the next pandemic in the year 2120, wherein the worst case, a static scenario, those affected by it, perhaps our grandchildren or great-grandchildren, will look back in despair at our history concerning COVID-19 and say in amazement: We could have done something about it and we didn't.

*The opening paragraphs of this article were based on the full text in English by George Soper published in Science Magazine.

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