Ebola, Disease, Pestilence & Family History


Anyone not totally brain-dead knows that the world community is extremely concerned about the rise of Ebola virus disease (EVD). It was earlier known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), since victims bleed both within the body and externally. The disease kills about 50% of those who get it. As of this writing the current outbreak is on the rise in three countries, those being Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, with no end in site. According to the Ebola site at Wikipedia, “As of 15 October 2014, 8,998 suspected cases resulting in the deaths of 4,493 have been reported.” I’ve seen numbers that were considerably higher, but no one really knows… There is currently no widely-available drug that is known to cure those with Ebola. What drugs are available are in extremely short supply and they are all still being tested for effectiveness.

Why am I writing about Ebola? Because I believe that this virus has the potential to dramatically change family history on a world-wide basis. In not-so-nice language, it can very quickly kill millions of folks – and not just those in far-off (not so far-off?) Africa. Talk about an effect on family history, and genealogy… The disease has already altered the families of thousands of people, and we have no idea where this will end.

Diseases have come and gone, rising and eventually falling, for the history of mankind. The overarching importance of good hygiene was only recognized in the nineteenth-century, so our human ancestors spent thousands of years in relative squalor, and the resulting disease, pandemics, and epidemics that go with it – Justinian’s Plague of the fifth-century, and the Black Death of the fourteenth and later centuries possibly being the worst of those found in recorded history. Note that epidemics are the rapid spread of infectious disease, with pandemics being epidemics that spread over large regions (often continents or worldwide). Justinian’s Plague, as well as the Black death are now commonly ascribed to Yersinia pestis. It was carried by infected fleas. The Plague again broke out in the 1300s, that time thought to have originated in Asia. By 1347 it had reached Italy, carried by the occupants of twelve Genoese galleys. According to medieval historian Philip Daileader, The trend of recent research is pointing to a figure more like 45–50% of the European population dying during a four-year period. There is a fair amount of geographic variation. In Mediterranean Europe, areas such as Italy, the south of France and Spain, where plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer to 75–80% of the population. In Germany and England … it was probably closer to 20%. Philip Daileader, The Late Middle Ages, audio/video course produced by The Teaching Company, (2007) ISBN: 978-1-59803-345-8. The Kingdom of Poland seems to have been spared.

A few other major diseases that decimated populations were Cholera, Influenza, Malaria, Smallpox, Typhus, and Yellow Fever.

The first cholera pandemic took place in India starting in 1817 and ran through 1824. The disease spread from India to Southeast Asia, China, Japan, the Middle East, and southern Russia. The second pandemic was from 1827 to 1835 and spread to the United States and Europe. Later Cholera pandemics spread to Africa and South America. Cholera transmission takes place mainly by ingesting food or water that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person, who can pass on the disease even though they may not have any apparent symptoms. Water treatment and good sanitation has all but wiped out cholera in developed countries. Many of our American ancestors lost their lives to cholera. New York State had several epidemics during the 1800s, attributed to cholera’s spread in waterways (like the Erie Canal), and off the Atlantic Coast. See the Cholera History pages at Wikipedia. In 2010, it’s been estimated that 100,000 to 300,000 cholera deaths took place worldwide.

According to the CDC, there are numerous different influenza A viruses. Some flu viruses are found in humans, while others are in animals such as avian flu in birds and poultry. Flu season usually starts about October every year, and many of us get annual vaccinations in an attempt to not get sick. The virus keeps changing, and the drug companies scramble to come up with vaccines that alleviate the virus in its most current form. The vaccines now help keep the mortality rate down. However, it wasn’t long ago that we had no protection against the virus. It’s a fact that between 50 and 100 million people died just during the 1918-1919 pandemic alone! Some of the viruses have produced worse symptoms than others, with the 1918 pandemic being extremely lethal. Since this wasn’t even 100 years ago, many of us have found death records of our ancestors who succumbed to this round of the flu. See the Influenza History pages of Wikipedia.

Malaria is said to kill a child about every 60 seconds… The disease is a microorganism carried and spread by mosquitos. The WHO has estimated that in 2012 alone, there were 207 million cases of malaria, with between 473,000 and 789,000 people killed, many of whom were children in Africa. Vaccines to fight malaria have never been successfully produced, and insect control seems to be the only effective preventative technique. See the History of Malaria pages at Wikipedia.

Smallpox alone has killed so many people that it’s mind-boggling. According to the History of Smallpox pages found at Wikipedia, “During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths.[5][6][7] In the early 1950s an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year.[8] As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year.[8] After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the eradication of smallpox in December 1979.[8] To this day, smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated.[9]See the History of Smallpox pages at Wikipedia. It’s known that smallpox was one of a number of European diseases that Native Americans succumbed to during the post-Columbus expedition to the Americas. There’s some evidence to show that it was used as a “weapon” against them by the British during the French and Indian War.

Typhus is a bacterial disease that is spread by lice, ticks and fleas. It’s estimated that 100,000 Irish died of the disease during the famine of 1815-1816. An epidemic appeared again in the 1830s, and again during the Great Irish Potato Famine. Typhus killed hundreds of thousands of Nazi concentration camp prisoners in during World War II. Many soldiers died of typhus during World War I. It’s said that more French soldiers died of the disease during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812 than were killed by the Russians. Read the History pages at the Wikipedia website.

Yellow Fever is a viral disease that causes liver damage – thus the yellow skin of those afflicted with it. It’s spread by mosquitos and leads to about 30,000 annual deaths, most occurring in Africa. Yellow fever epidemics hit Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York in the 18th and 19th centuries, coming there by steamboat routes from New Orleans. The epidemics caused some 100,000–150,000 deaths. The 1793 Philadelphia epidemic caused the death of about 9% of the city’s population. See the Yellow Fever History pages at Wikipedia.

Although the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) is attempting to reassure us that chances of an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the USA are low, their assurances sound pretty hollow. We know that the now-deceased Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who flew to the USA, was able to do so by just stating that he had had no contact with anyone with the disease (he lied)… We now know that the nursing staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas didn’t have the protective clothing needed to shield them from the virus.. As of today, we know that two nurses caring for Duncan caught the virus… We now know that one of the nurses was given permission to fly by commercial airliner even though she had reported an elevated temperature to the CDC… The CDC is attempting to find all 132 people that were on that flight, and an additional 800 people who later flew on that Frontier Airlines jet. The CDC and the U.S. government as a whole does not want us to panic. That can have bad results both for the economy, as well as the politicians who we seem to think can protect us. The President has appointed Ron Klain to act as his “Ebola Czar” in an attempt to manage the crisis. Although Klain has no medical experience, he is said have a successful management background.

Common sense tells us that those areas where the disease is spreading rapidly should be put under quarantine and travel to and from those areas suspended. However, that’s easier said than done. It just happens that the disease is currently spreading exponentially in countries that have little in the way of resources, and appropriate health-care. If “western” countries and health-care professionals don’t go into the areas and help, what will happen? Possibly mass-death, with the disease finding it’s way outside the borders anyway? At the moment, there seems to be no appetite for stopping outbound airline flights from leaving those countries. These are living, breathing, human beings, many of whom may be our own kin… Keep in mind that Liberia was settled by freed slaves from the United States. Sierra Leone got started as a colony of African-American loyalists and poor blacks from England in 1787. The United States is sending troops into harm’s way in the attempt to build badly needed healthcare facilities.

I’ve written a bit about a number of diseases in this blog. Note that some of these diseases have and continue to kill untold numbers of our family members. Disease is nothing to disregard. Once an epidemic gets underway, it can quickly become a pandemic, and the entire human family can be involved. Thus far, the Ebola death numbers seem small when compared to annual death rates of some diseases. Those directly involved may seem far away. But that can change – and quickly. I pray to Jehovah God that we quickly get a handle on Ebola and stop it before many more lives are lost. Remember – each person lost is someone’s family member.

For further online reading check out the following sites (and one book):

The Center for Disease Control website: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/

The World Health Organization Website: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

Ebola virus disease pages at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus_disease

Black Death pages at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death#cite_note-50 This site has a good gif illustration showing the spread of Black Death throughout Europe from 1346 to 1343.

Plague of Justinian pages at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Justinian

Armies of Pestilence, The Impact of Disease on History, by R.S. Bray compiles a lot of interesting information from numerous sources. It’s a bit “heavy,” but in my search for information, I found it useful. I’ve read the book and have referred to it many times since obtaining a copy a few years ago. Not for casual reading…