Since the beginning of time, Ol’ Mother Nature has been trying to rid herself of pesky inhabitants, whether it was trilobites from the Ordovician extinction that occurred 434 million years ago, or present-day homo sapiens getting hit with H1N1 and AIDS. Evidently, Earth would like nothing better than to be a dried up, crusty ball of dirt like her neighbors.
Let’s take a look at some of Mommy’s most deadly human wipeouts:
Plague of Athens – 430BC
Typhoid fever struck a quarter of Athens population. What’s interesting is that this bacterium – salmonella – killed off its hosts (humans) at a rate faster than it could spread. Good news for the rest of the world. Bad news for Athenians.
Antonine Plague – 165-180
Smallpox hit Italy, killing up to 5 million people over a 15 year period. According to Wikipedia, during the height of the pandemic, 5,000 people were dying daily in Rome. Even during the 20th century, 300 – 500 million deaths were attributed to smallpox.
*In 1979, this infectious disease was officially eradicated.
* * * Time for a brief notation here about plagues * * *
In non-specific terms, the word is used to describe an epidemic of any infectious disease. Thus the Plague of Athens was really typhoid fever, and the Antonine Plague was caused by an entirely different bacterium, smallpox.
In specific terms, we get THE PLAGUE, caused by enterobacteria. This is sometimes called Bubonic Plague, however, (my finger is raised here), plagues are categorized by the part of the body infected.
Bubonic Plague attacks the lymph nodes
Pneumonic Plague is in the lungs
Septicemic Plague occurs in blood vessels
One of mankind’s first biological weapons.
In 1346, the Mongols catapulted the dead bodies of bubonic plague victims over the walls of a sieged city in Crimea. There were also incidents of using infected animal carcasses like horses and cows to contaminate water sources.
Black Death – 1347-1351
This was a particularly virulent strain of bubonic plague that started in China. It reduced the world population by 100 million in three years. Symptoms included buboes, (which are huge blisters in the armpits and groin), abscesses, rashes, and my favorite – carbuncles. Oh, and bleeding from the ears.
15th & 16th centuries – When Europeans began exploring Central and South America, not only did they carry food supplies aboard ship, but also smallpox, measles and typhus. At one point, the population of Mexico dropped from 20 million to 3 million. Thanks for coming!
Influenza – 1556-1560
The first time this virus hits Europe, an estimated 20% of the population dies
Smallpox – 18th century
That crazy variola strikes again in Europe, killing another 60 million. If you survived, you had a 30% of being blinded.
Tuberculosis – 19th century
This disease of the lungs culled out a quarter of the adult population in Europe. At its worst, one in six deaths in France was caused by this bacterium
Spanish flu – 1918
The Spanish got a bad rap from this virus, because it was knocking down the population of the U.S. and the rest of Europe long before it swept through Spain. An H1N1 subtype, this stinker killed 50 million people in 18 months. Some estimates go as high as 100 million worldwide. As many as 25 million died in the first 25 weeks. It’s believed that this influenza pandemic was spread more quickly because it occurred toward the end of World War I. All those soldiers crammed into unhealthy quarters and massive troop movements carried the disease all over the place.
* * * Some interesting statistics on deaths during wars * * *
The Crusades – during fighting between Spanish Christians and Muslims in 1489, the Spanish lost 3,000 troops in battle, but 20,000 troops to typhus
The Thirty-Years War – say bye-bye to 8 million Germans who died of either bubonic plague or typhus
World War I – 16.5 million deaths attributed to fighting. 50 million deaths worldwide from H1N1
And infectious diseases are only one way Mother Nature is trying to slough-off her surface vermin like a bad case of fleas. Don’t even get me started on the plant kingdom.