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How 5 of History's Worst Pandemics Finally Ended

March 17, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

While some of the earliest pandemics faded by wiping out parts of the population, medical and public health initiatives were able to halt the spread of other diseases.

As human civilizations flourished, so did infectious disease. Large numbers of people living in close proximity to each other and to animals, often with poor sanitation and nutrition, provided fertile breeding grounds for disease. And new overseas trading routes spread the novel infections far and wide, creating the first global pandemics.

Here’s how five of the world’s worst pandemics finally ended.

1. Plague of Justinian—No One Left to Die

Yersinia pestis, formerly pasteurella pestis, was the bacteria responsible for the plague. Here it’s seen under optical microscopy X 1000.

Three of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history were caused by a single bacterium, Yersinia pestis, a fatal infection otherwise known as the plague.

The Plague of Justinian arrived in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 541 CE. It was carried over the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt, a recently conquered land paying tribute to Emperor Justinian in grain. Plague-ridden fleas hitched a ride on the black rats that snacked on the grain.

The plague decimated Constantinople and spread like wildfire across Europe, Asia, North Africa and Arabia killing an estimated 30 to 50 million people, perhaps half of the world’s population.

“People had no real understanding of how to fight it other than trying to avoid sick people,” says Thomas Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University. “As to how the plague ended, the best guess is that the majority of people in a pandemic somehow survive, and those who survive have immunity.”

2. Black Death—The Invention of Quarantine

A couple suffering from the blisters of the Black Death, the bubonic plague that swept through Europe in the Middle Ages. From the Swiss manuscript the Toggenburg Bible, 1411.

The plague never really went away, and when it returned 800 years later, it killed with reckless abandon. The Black Death, which hit Europe in 1347, claimed an astonishing 200 million lives in just four years.

As for how to stop the disease, people still had no scientific understanding of contagion, says Mockaitis, but they knew that it had something to do with proximity. That’s why forward-thinking officials in Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until they could prove they weren’t sick.

At first, …read more


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Apollo 13

March 17, 2020 in History

By Editors

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the Apollo Space program (1861-1975) and was supposed to be the third lunar landing mission, but the three astronauts aboard never reached the moon. Instead the crew and ground control team scrambled through a hair-raising rescue mission. On April 13, 1970, an oxygen tank on board exploded. Ground control in Houston rushed to develop an emergency plan as millions around the world watched and the lives of three astronauts hung in the balance: commander James A. Lovell Jr., lunar module pilot Fred W. Haise Jr. and command module pilot John L. Swigert.

Apollo 13’s Mission

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On board were astronauts James Lovell, John “Jack” Swigert and Fred Haise. Their mission was to reach the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon and explore the Imbrium Basin, conducting geological experiments along the way.

“Houston, we’ve had a problem…”

The Apollo 13 lunar landing mission prime crew from left to right are: Commander, James A. Lovell, Jr., Command Module pilot, John L. Swigert Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Fred W. Haise, Jr.

At 9:00 p.m. EST on April 13, Apollo 13 was over 200,000 miles from Earth. The crew had just completed a television broadcast and was inspecting Aquarius, the Landing Module (LM). The next day, Apollo 13 was to enter the moon’s orbit. Lovell and Haise were set to become the fifth and sixth men to walk on the moon.

It was not to be. At 9:08 p.m.—about 56 hours into the flight—an explosion rocked the spacecraft. Oxygen tank No. 2 had blown up, disabling the regular supply of oxygen, electricity, light and water. Lovell reported to mission control: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” The Command Module (CM) was leaking oxygen and rapidly losing fuel cells. The moon landing mission was aborted.

How the Crew of Apollo 13 Survived

Apollo 13 lifted off for the moon with Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise aboard. Two days later, with the spacecraft well on its way to the …read more