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Pandemics of the Past and What We Would Do Now

If you were to really think of how far the human race has come, you’d probably be pretty amazed. I’m in no way saying we’re perfect, but there have definitely been some major advances throughout our history. Technological breakthroughs have made most lives easier. However, medical breakthroughs have saved a significant amount of lives. We’ve experienced horrible pandemics; many have been noted in history, as early as 400-500 BC. Yet, looking back now, most of the diseases are no longer a threat. Even some of the most devastating and horrific diseases have been beaten by a little help from science.

The Black Death –
 Possibly the most well known outbreak of disease, the Black Death has been said to have killed hundreds of millions of people (many of the death counts vary). The disease was spread by the fleas that were found on rats. The plague was horrible, causing the body count to sky-rocket in Europe. Four in Five victims died from the plague. However, now the Black Death is almost non-existent in developed parts of the world. Thanks to proper hygiene and modern antibiotics, there are very few cases that occur in the developed world. Yet, in underdeveloped countries with poor hygiene and water sanitation, the Black Death is still a very real threat.

Smallpox Epidemic Amongst Native Americans –
 During the time European settlers started moving to North America they brought more than just European culture, they brought European diseases. The most deadly of these diseases was smallpox. The disease was extremely effective at killing all the native inhabitants, as they had never been exposed to any of these illnesses. Smallpox wreaked havoc and resulted in the mass depopulation of Native Americans. Thankfully, due to the smallpox vaccine and antiviral drugs, there hasn’t been a human case of smallpox in over 30 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the disease to be eradicated.

Spanish Influenza –
 During the last year of World War One a very deadly virus began to spread across the world. Modern transportation combined with mass troop movements made it very easy for the virus to move from country to country and eventually continent to continent. The virus, unlike most other epidemics was targeting the young and healthy (similar to Swine Flu) as opposed to the elderly, weak, and children. The spread of a deadly virus and a war like no other in history had resulted in some of the greatest devastation ever witnessed in the history of the world. The Spanish Flu alone killed somewhere between 50-100 million people; more than all of the wars during the 20th Century combined. However, modern medications, such as Tamiflu, have been effective in reducing symptoms of the flu and preventing the transmission. Although the Spanish Flu is still present, it is nowhere near as deadly as it had been before. Many scientists believe that the virus eventually mutated into a less deadly strain.

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-BS Pharm, PharmD, RPh

Dr. Paul Zickler is a graduate of the University of Wester Ontario in 1972. After graduating from the faculty of medicine, Dr. Zickler practiced as an Emergency Physician for 18 years. He has then operated ambulatory medical and travel clinics for 12 years. Dr. Zickler has become an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of British Columbia, a Director of Professional Programs for the Justice Institute of British Columbia (paramedic academy), a principal investigator for Phase 2 and 3 studies researching vaccines, and a founding member of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. Dr. Zickler is passionate about combining western prescription medicine and natural medicines.

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