The coronavirus and its ravages continue to attract worldwide attention. Closed borders, canceled commercial flights and a growing global fear. They are the effects of epidemics. It is not the first time it happens. There are other cases that left their mark on history. The first documented epidemic was called the "plague of Athens", although there were many more.
Throughout humanity we have had to face the emergence of unprecedented diseases. The Europe of the fifteenth century knew for the first time a massive epidemic of syphilis. Until 1830 there were no known cases of cholera. And before 1981 AIDS was an unknown disease.
The appearance of these infections caused enormous concern in society. Fear of the unknown obscured reason and apocalyptic irrationality arose from all areas.
There are two major epidemics. The first is the bubonic plague or black plague that hit Europe in the fourteenth century. It is considered that it originated in Catay (China) and that from there it was imported by Genoese merchants.
The other is the so-called Spanish flu (1918). Its origin is located in Kansas (United States). It caused the death of more than 50 million people in just one year.
What was the first?
But to find the first pandemic in history we have to go back much further. It was around 430 a. C. The so-called "plague of Athens" broke out. A devastating epidemic caused by bacteria, Salmonella tiphy.
It is estimated that one third of the inhabitants of the Hellenic Peninsula died. The epicenter was in a ship from Ethiopia that arrived in Piraeus. The historian Thucydides wrote in shock: "Never was there any such scourge and such numerous victims."
This would be followed by the plague of Galen in the second century A.D. And then the Justinian epidemic in VI A.D., which lasted for six decades. From the first epidemics, although the concept of infection was unknown, it was observed that the risk of getting sick increased proportionally to the exposure time with the patient. This meant that for centuries the axiom was defended that the sick radiated evil. Consequently, we had to get away from them.
Quarantine and cordon
The brightest minds coined two prophylactic concepts: isolation and cordon (quarantine and border protection). Isolation basically consists in separating the patient from the rest of the population to prevent the spread from spreading.
The quarantine consists in the action of separating people who are still asymptomatic but who have had contact with the sick.
The term quarantine has a religious origin. It appears for the first time in Leviticus (12; 1-8). It refers to the forty days following the birth during which the woman was considered impure. Therefore, all contact with her should be avoided.
Border closures have also served to prevent migratory flows and spread the disease. The most striking was the one that carried out the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 18th century. The obligation was established that each man should monitor the border for 149 days a year. There were almost 700 border posts that prevented entry into the Empire.
The historical perspective allows us to be optimistic with the Wuhan epidemic. We always faced the most terrible epidemics. Even at times when there was no information or current technological advances. From the first epidemic until now, we have advanced as humanity.
And so we will continue.