Friday, May 1, 2009

Day 101/365 Pandemic? What Pandemic?

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flew-enza.
—Children's Rhyme, 1918

More thinking on epidemics, pandemics, influenza, yellow fever, small pox, measles and other cheery topics. I got to wondering exactly how many epidemics have we had in America and/or worldwide.

Turns out, they are more normal than abnormal.

From the first white settlers to the American Revolution:

1628-1631 New England Small Pox
1638 New England Small Pox & Spotted Fever
1648-1649 Massachusetts Small Pox
1679-1680 Virginia Small Pox
1689-1690 New England Small Pox
1690 New York Yellow Fever
1693 Boston Yellow Fever
1701 Jamestown, VA Small Pox
1702 New York Yellow Fever
1702-1703 Boston Small Pox
1706 Charleston Yellow Fever
1711-1712 South Carolina Small Pox
1713 Boston Measles
1715-1725 The Colonies Small Pox
1721 Boston Small Pox
1723-1730 Boston, New York, Philadelphia Small Pox
1729 Boston Measles
1732 Charleston & New York Yellow Fever
1732-3 Worldwide Influenza
1735-1740 New England Small Pox, Scarlet Fever & Diphtheria
1734 Virginia Yellow Fever
1738 South Carolina Smallpox
1739-40 Boston Measles
1741 Virginia Yellow Fever
1747 New England Measles
1752 Boston Small Pox
1759 N. America (White pop) Measles
1760-1761 New England, Charleston Small Pox
1761 N. America Influenza
1762 Philadelphia Yellow Fever
1764 Boston Small Pox
1772 N. America Measles
1772-1774 New England Small Pox
1775 N. America Influenza
1776 Boston Small Pox

Keep in mind these all make the list because they generated the number of cases and deaths required to make them an official "epidemic".

It's amazing anyone was left to fight the Revolution.

Things got better after the War for Independance, right?

Not really:

1778 Boston Small Pox
1788 Philadelphia and New York Measles
1792 Boston Small Pox
1793 Vermont Influenza
1793 Virginia [500 dead in 4 weeks) Influenza
1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever
1793 Harrisburg, PA [many unexplained deaths] Unknown
1793 Middletown, PA [many mysterious deaths] Unknown
1794 Philadelphia Yellow Fever
1796-8 Philadelphia Yellow Fever

(Unexplained deaths? Physicians then could identify major illnesses, so what were these"unexplained deaths"?)

Maybe after the 19th century began, things got better? Maybe life was safer, mortality not quite that constant companion?


1803 New York Yellow Fever
1831-2 Nationwide Asiatic Cholera
1834 New York City Cholera
1837 Philadelphia Typhus
1841 Nationwide Yellow Fever
1847 New Orleans Yellow Fever
1847-8 Worldwide Influenza
1848-9 North America Cholera
1850 North America Influenza &Yellow Fever
1851 The Great Plains Cholera
1852 New Orleans Yellow Fever
1855 Nationwide Yellow Fever
1857-9 Worldwide Influenza
1860-1 Pennsylvania Smallpox
1865-73 Nationwide Smallpox, Cholera, plus recurring epidemics of
Typhus, Typhoid, Scarlet Fever, Yellow Fever
1873-5 N. America and Europe Influenza
1878 New Orleans Yellow Fever

Imagine 1852 in New Orleans: On the narrow, dark streets of the French Quarter, every corner has a sulfur bonfire bellowing with yellow smoke. The stench is thought to ward off the yellow fever. In the early morning, carts appear, pulled by men with faces wrapped in thick cloth. The men stop in front of each door and cry out "Bring out your dead!" The corpses of those who died during the night are passed out the door, to be taken to mass burning sites. Supposedly the city is quarantined, but some of the wealthy families smuggle themselves out to country plantations, spreading the disease as they go.

Eventually, 8000 people will die and be taken to the burning piles.

Then the 20th century arrives with all it's modern progress in sanitation and science.

Things really did get better this time around, right?

A little.

1918 Worldwide Influenza -More people were hospitalized in WWI from
this pandemic than from war wounds.
U.S. Army training camps became death camps
with an 80% death rate
1949 Nationwide Polio
1952 Nationwide Polio (between 1949 and 1952 6,000 die from polio)
1957 Worldwide Asian Flu Pandemic causes 4,000,000 deaths
1968 Worldwide Hong Kong Flu causes 750,000 deaths
1981–2007 Worldwidewide AIDS (total deaths as of 2007: 25,250,000)

Of course, there are more people in the world now, so any disease will kill more people, simply due to availability of victims.

In 1852, the total population of New Orleans was 116,000, meaning approximately 7% of the city died in the yellow fever epidemic.

For comparison, let's take a random U.S. city, say, Boston. As of 2007, Boston's population was 599,351. If 7% of the population died from a pandemic, that would mean 41,954 deaths.

Historically speaking, that's how bad it will have to be before we make it to pandemic levels.


  1. Your blog is the cheery one my dear, mine is the historical one.
    Life is not always a bowl of cherries. Ah-hem.