The Evolution of Disease: Trade Infections and the Plauges


mankind made the move from a nomadic existence to a more permanent one, there was a rapid increase in disease, as many diseases that had previously only affected animals began affecting humans. Despite this influx of disease and parasites, mankind would continue to flourish and even spread, almost undaunted by the plagues that were created as a byproduct of this concept.

However, in truth diseases like chicken pocks and mumps would take a large toll on humans, as different cultures met and swapped disease. Often, the diseases of one culture would have very little impact on their daily lives. When this same disease was introduced to another culture, it would, however, be devastating. These types of disease are referred to as Trade Infections.

Trade Infections

The effect of trade infections can be seen throughout history, but the impact of the diseases brought to Native Americans by Europeans is one of the most recent examples of the effective genocide that it can cause.

In fact, some European-Americans even went so far as to exploit this, bringing gifts of blankets infected with small pox to Native American Tribes, in what is an examples of germ warfare.

Columbus's 1492 visit to Haiti and the Dominican Republic was the first instance of this type of trade infection, where the act of trading helped bring not only foreign goods, but also foreign disease to those that lived in Hispaniola.

It is believed that Columbus's visit might have been the first example of swine flu, as many feel it was related to pigs brought by Columbus. Soon, with the help of the Spanish, the New World would be brought to their knees by diseases and plagues brought by foreign cultures.

Trade Infections Lead to Slavery

Interestingly enough, one of the main reasons that slave trade began was the result of labor shortages caused by Trade Infections. The Portuguese began importing African Slaves to compensate for those who were lost to disease. However, the Africans brought their own homegrown diseases with them, further compounding the problem.

Diseases Caused by Rodents and Insects

In many cases, what were once very serious diseases would, over time, become mere inconvenience or childhood ailments to humans, but this was not always the case. Of particular problem were diseases carried by insects and rodents, which would often be basically un-treatable.

One of the earliest examples of this type of diseases was the bubonic plague, which was caused by disease carrying fleas. The fleas would infect rats, but once the rats succumbed to the disease, they would turn to humans.

The bubonic plague was first reported by the Romans, which is not a large surprise. This is due to the horrible sewage and general cleanliness of most areas of the Roman Empire, which helped facilitate the spread of the plague.

The bubonic plague was very serious and similar diseases would become even more widespread later on. For example, many years after the Roman Empire fell, a plague called the black death would quickly spread through Europe, killing a quarter of the European population in only four years. This occurred during 1346 and 1350, during which time, the Black Death spread throughout Asia and Europe.

Today, the measures used to fight infectious disease would appear almost laughable, if the disease had not had such a horrific effect on the human population. For instance, during the medieval times, physicians would

Time and time again, we can look back through history and spot the origin of a disease, specific to a culture. This disease can then be traced as it spread to other countries, wreaking havoc on the population. Cholera is a good example of this, as the disease was virtually unknown until 1816, when it began to ravage Asian countries and spread to the West. Cholera was common in India, but had never spread until this time.

Cholera causes diarrhea and vomiting, which ultimately leads to death. By 1832, Cholera had spread to Europe, with 7,000 people reportedly dieing of the disease in London. Within a few short years, Cholera spread to Latin America and then North America. Cholera was revived about 20 years later, when it spread throughout Russia, with over a Million people dying from the disease.

Disease and the Industrial Revolution

Much like how agriculture was responsible for many good things, but also many diseases, the same can be said of the Industrial Revolution. As a result of the rapid growth of industrialization, cities quickly grew and with it very unsanitary living conditions. It was also around this time that some of the more common disease of today, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases were first discovered.

When many people think of diseases like Cholera or the bubonic plague, it is easy to think of them as very old disease, but even in the twentieth century, we have seen the effects of these types of diseases. For example, after World War I in the twentieth century, the Spanish Flu would spread across the world, killing over 60 million people in only a few years. We also continue to discover disease like AIDS and Ebola, which are in some regards the modern equivalent to the Black Death of the 1400's.

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