TABLE OF CONTENTS
From the Plague to Polio in Ireland & Beyond
Whatever happened to the Bubonic Plague & What has Chickenpox got to do with it?
Cholera: the Disease that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula & a Tale of a few other pathogens
The Many ‘Typhoid Marys’
TB the Modern Plague of the 20th Century?
Would We Survive the Spanish Flu if it Re-emerged Today?
Don’t count your Children before they’ve had the Pox
Scarlet Fever Returns, but it is a whole lot less lethal
The Almost Universal Decline in Deaths from Infectious Diseases of Childhood & Some Solutions for Our Present Times
The Rise & Demise of Polio the Great Crippler
CONCLUSION: Where to Now?
THIS STUDY IS DEDICATED TO:
All those who gave their Lives & Suffered Untold Disabilities
On the Front Line of Our Developing Nations
Who Fought with such Valour
Unknowingly – Defending Our Future Immunity
Against the Greatest Scourges of Humanity.
The great historian on the matter, William McNeil who wrote a very influential book on the topic of infectious disease over the course of history, ‘Plagues and People’ (McNeill W.H. 1977, ) provides a clear guiding model for this present study. McNeil proposes that increasing exposure to these same pathogens results in much of the population becoming effectively immune, or at least robustly resilient and the more lethal contagions fade into history.
This study falls broadly into two main sections. Part One deals with the rise, peaking and the ultimate decline in deaths from some of the deadliest plagues known to all of our ancestors and Part Two focuses on the fate of those previously more lethal contagions of childhood in particular, that ultimately became rather benign infections common to almost all of our ancestors when they were growing up.
This pattern is inscribed upon the graphs illustrating this dramatic decline in deaths such as those from Ireland which have been created directly from the: “Annual Reports on Marriages, Births and Deaths in Ireland, from 1864 to 2000” An Phríomh-Oifig Staidrimh, Central Statistics Office CSO  and compared directly to relevant studies and historical statistics from a diverse range of other regions corresponding to a similar timeframe.
It should also be noted that, to keep this discussion as objective as possible, the text is dominated by direct quotes from reputable and mostly original historical commentary, from contemporary news articles (also reputable) and quite a number of excerpts from medical science papers (peer-reviewed) relating to each disease with further explanations and commentary to highlight particular patterns and common threads that all effectively tell the story of our battle with the bugs and how we have seemingly effectively already won by fully natural means.
It is hoped that this study will help to restore our faith in Mother Nature.
“…the virus is smarter than we are at this point. I don’t know of any disease that plagues us more. It’s very, very frustrating and a very inexact science. ... We do it with varying luck, and I think the luck is mostly the virus’s whim”.
Robert Daum, a doctor who heads the FDA advisory committee commenting on the difficulties with creating effective Flu vaccines for any given season as quoted in the Washington Post, (January 9th 2015)
Recently emerging archaeological evidence points to the fact that black rats and their fleas may be innocent after all in being the true cause of the Plague of the Middle Ages. And, seemingly if the old Plague returned (we now know for example that it has the same genes as the original Plague) to taunt our modern communities today, apparently we would not begin to die in our millions, or a third of Ireland’s population and the same proportion in Europe would not be wiped out as before and the Herpes family of viruses, which includes Chickenpox, may be the reason why!
By re-examining history from the perspective of the bugs themselves and understanding their behaviour within us as their hosts, this begins to reveal an unexpected story of natural resistance to all sorts of once deadlier pathogens and our ultimate immunity to them over the course of generations.
No better example of this, is how most of our ancestors who survived the great Spanish Flu pandemic (worldwide) of 1918/19 (and indeed, most survived who became infected and the vast majority only got a mild form due apparently to previous exposure to the same strain that was initially less aggressive and those old enough to have had exposure to earlier Influenza pandemics) carried within them natural resistance against every major Influenza viral strain that emerged thereafter; as did the vast majority of subsequent generations that came after, who also became resistant, not just to the circulating strains that they were exposed to as children and while growing up, but, to major pandemic strains that were to be experienced in the future.
That future has come and gone and it is remarkable just how many of us are actually fairly robustly resistant to almost all the circulating strains, no matter what the season and the most surprising part is that we may be able to pass this protection against the worst effects of these previously experienced bugs (quite possibly due to being attenuated, or rendered less lethal, by being filtered and disarmed via our mighty immune systems) to our offspring and theirs to their own. Immunity molecules echo far into the future, further than any of us could have imagined.
Heritable immunity operates outside, above and beyond your genes, and it is this newly emerging science that holds the key to explaining how we seem to be now nearing the end of the Great War with a vast array of bugs that once wiped out entire families, destroyed communities and left massive holes in our populations. Therefore, perhaps we don’t need to worry so much about those viruses, or bacterium for that matter, outsmarting our immunologists and health professionals now that the war is effectively over with only a few skirmishes remaining.
Essentially, this study has established the rise and demise of all the major contagions as a near-universal pattern, and as such, this widely shared phenomenon, experienced across and throughout our now developed nations, cannot be explained by the more commonly offered means – typically relating to improved nutrition, economics, hygiene etc., because it would seem highly improbable that we all experienced the very same degree of hygienic intervention, economic prosperity and improved our diets at exactly the same time within and across our vast and far-flung nations from Ireland to Iceland and from Australia to America to account for this remarkably similar and near-simultaneous decline in deaths from the same infectious contagions.
And certainly, this pattern of dramatically declining deaths across our nations cannot be accounted for by our medical interventions, as these measures do not correlate with what we see in the mortality statistics or the historical accounts either within our respective regions. In other words, all of the major contagions are historically documented to have declined in their deadliness long before or, entirely without, our efforts to intervene in their demise.
Even contagions that are widely believed to have been stopped in their tracks and ultimately been eradicated via our medical interventions such as Smallpox, upon closer inspection of previously un-investigated sources and statistics would say otherwise.
The answer to how these greater and lesser killer pathogens may have become less deadly to our populations, near-simultaneously, lies in how these same pathogens may have initially gained the upper hand, or gotten a more deadly foothold within our now modern nations in the first place. It seems that the more you are exposed to natural background pathogens, the more resistance you build up against them.
For instance, as this study documents and explores, it would appear that as we were beginning to become cleaner, more affluent and generally better fed, counter-intuitively perhaps, it was a shift in our normal exposure to such natural background pathogens that may have contributed significantly to the terrible shift from benign to deadly and debilitating.
This is exemplified in the studies relating to the rise of Polio at the other end of the plague-like spectrum. Polio, the great crippler, has often been referred to as the Middle-Class disease. This is due to the fact that it was often, unfortunately, the most affluent older children from hygienic homes that were the most susceptible to the Poliovirus’s worst impact.
Everyone else was essentially naturally immune to Polio due to being frequently exposed from an early age to natural Polioviruses that lived alongside us in the general background. However, it was the better off children who were now playing less in the dirt and around other children and living with new indoor plumbing with flushable toilets, making them the most vulnerable due to now being artificially shielded against such germs and this is reflected in the historical accounts at the time and upon later research into the nature of the eruption within our fully modern nations.
In other words, it seems that the original eruption of even the greatest pathogen attacks known to humankind from the Plague to Typhus or Cholera, as well as the lesser types like Polio, were probably initiated by these typically more benign pathogens finding increasing opportunities to colonise greater numbers of susceptible populations than they had previously been able to do due to an increasing lack of exposure and subsequent lack of resilience to them as their natural hosts.
It is proposed here that the shift in the ecology was due to the fact that as we developed and advanced towards modern living (even back in the Middle Ages people were becoming more modernised), the more opportunities, particularly with increasing urbanisation, densely growing populations, world interconnectedness via expanding commerce, these opportunistic pathogens at different historical times gained the upper hand until our swelling populations had built up enough resistance and immunity to return the pathogen to its more natural state once again.
Another situation where a pathogen can wreak devastation is when a given population has never encountered a particular pathogen previously and therefore, have no existing immunity or resilience as is well documented throughout early modern history when indigenous peoples first encountered pathogen carrying explorers from the old world to the new.
Now the particular pathogen, once it became out of balance within a population or if it were only being encountered for the first time, would impact the least resilient victims the most and the contagion would begin spreading, often with lethal devastation at least initially. In other words, it doesn’t look like any amount of cleaning up sewers or removing flea-infested rat heaps, or delousing could impede its spread into the wider public once it caught hold and spread like wildfire until those that survived had adequate immunity to keep the bug at bay. Moreover, it doesn’t matter how fit and healthy the indigenous peoples were when they encountered such a new contagion, the bug didn’t care. But, thankfully, all this was not relentless and as harsh as these eruptions were, seemingly, this hard-earned resilience would echo down the generations as indicated above
Overall, there would be an immunising effect from such exposures over time, to the point where, the pathogen would only be able to impact the least resilient hosts (less exposed) portions of a population, namely the infants and children, but, even this more vulnerable population were protected by their mother’s antibodies (gained from her own exposure) until they could deal with the pathogen on their own as our medical literature on the subject clearly shows, but, eventually, almost all the population grew up to become immune or at least with a very strong resistance to once deadlier infectious diseases and indeed as the historical accounts show, these very often became relatively benign infections of childhood and ultimately the threat would pass entirely.
This pattern, as noted in the preface is inscribed upon our statistical mortality charts and graphs which form the backbone of this entire study and when we assess these against the historical accounts of each contagion through time, from its rise to its demise, it becomes obvious that we are indeed robustly resistant (if not fully and ancestrally immune) to the worst impact of these bugs within our more modern and fully developed world.
Whichever end of the contagion spectrum we are viewing in terms of time or scale, the story is essentially the same; the overarching pattern is that they all become significantly and increasingly less deadly (fairly tame in fact) as the generations passed, with one reassuring caveat, the older the contagion: the more deadly its impact at a population level and conversely, the younger the contagion: the less deadly within our populations as a whole.
This common pattern, in principle, presumably, as it is demonstrably near universal – should also apply to less developed nations who are only a short bit behind where we are now. Indeed, there is some indication of such a welcomed reprieve from previously deadlier contagions are also occurring in other parts of the world less developed than us.