The American public is in the midst of a news media driven panic in the face of a new virus originating in China. Compared to past pandemics, the COVID-19 virus is a minor threat while much of the world is acting like the fictional elephant afraid of the mouse. In the process, the world economy is in danger of strangulation.
Mother Nature has a way of periodically providing a pathogen to help trim the burgeoning human population. Periodic population control occurs through war, which over the eons kill increasing numbers of people but fails to stop population growth. So, microbes arise within the microscopic world acting to prevent humans from over populating a fragile planet.
Typhoid, cholera, polio, smallpox, influenza, plague, and other virulent diseases have historically been effective killers. Influenza and plague have been the most prolific population reducers. The historical record includes devastating epidemics in ancient China, Greece and Rome. Significant percentages of the population were killed in periodic epidemics. All early civilizations were affected to some extent.
The European and Asian populations have suffered from plague pandemics periodically since the last days of the Roman Empire. Plague bacteria followed the trade routes from populous China across Central Asia aboard infected fleas leaving a path of death. Millions were killed in Eurasia and estimates of 25 to 100 million died, including nearly half the population of Europe.
In the 700s, smallpox killed one third of the population of Japan. Smallpox was introduced into the Western Hemisphere from Europe with devastating consequences for the Native American populations of North and South America, killing 40 to 80 percent of the population.
The infamous “Black Death” plague in the fourteenth century also arrived riding on fleas following international trade routes from China across Central Asia to Europe. The plague was devastating with estimates of 75 to 200 million deaths across Eurasia and North Africa. Yet the human populations recovered and continued to grow.
In more recent times, the 1918 influenza pandemic (mislabeled “Spanish Flu”) took place during the very destructive First World War with its millions of war dead. The suspected H1N1, “swine flu” pandemic, which likely originated in China not Spain, is estimated to have killed an estimated 17 to 100 million people worldwide -- many times more than battlefield deaths.
In 2009 a new version of the swine flu spread around the world causing concern but not global panic. The World Health Organization estimated that between 700 million to 1.4 billion people may have contracted the flu with several hundred thousand deaths, yet no worse than the normal worldwide deaths from seasonal influenza of an estimated 250,000 to 500,000.
Yet the 2020 COVID-19 virus now has the United States and much of the world in a panic. The world economy is teetering. Many nations are in a national time-out mode attempting to stop the spread of a virus that has so far proven to be much less deadly than the seasonal flu and certainly a minor player when compared to the major pandemics humankind has historically faced and survived.
In the past there was no internet, social media, and 24-hour news cycles that can spread rumors, misinformation and fear to terrify a much less stalwart modern population. Our ancestors would have taken precautions yet pressed on with their daily lives in the quest to survive from the greater scourge of economic collapse.
The United States is blessed with the greatest scientific and health care system in the world. We will survive. Courage America, this pandemic too will pass into the history books and shelves will be restocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer.