Don’t Count Your
‘til they’ve Had the
A Graphic History of the Natural Decline in Deaths from Some of the Scariest Contagions Ever Known in Ireland & Beyond?
M. B. O’Hare
In this cartoon, the British satirist James Gillray caricatured a scene at the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras, showing cowpox vaccine being administered to frightened women, and cows emerging from different parts of people’s bodies. The cartoon was inspired by the controversy over inoculating against the dreaded disease, smallpox. Opponents of vaccination had depicted cases of vaccinees developing bovine features and this is picked up and exaggerated by Gillray. This work is in the public domain.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Whatever happened to the Bubonic Plague & What has Chickenpox got to do with it?
Cholera: the Disease that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula & a Tale of a few other pathogens
The Many ‘Typhoid Marys’
TB the Modern Plague of the 20th Century?
Would We Survive the Spanish Flu if it Re-emerged Today?
Don’t Count Your Children Before they’ve had the Pox
& Did Jenner Really Save Us?
Scarlet Fever Returns, but it is a Whole Lot Less Lethal
The Almost Universal Decline in Deaths from Infectious Diseases of Childhood
Before Our Intervention
Did We Really Eradicate Polio?
The Forgotten & Rediscovered Clinical Experience with Vitamin Therapies – Protection & Recovery from Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria, Whooping Cough (Pertussis), Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio & perhaps even Smallpox!
“…the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt ~
Recently emerging archaeological evidence points to the fact that black rats and their fleas may be innocent after all in being the true cause of the wild spread of the Plague of the Middle Ages. And, seemingly if the old Plague returned (we now know for example that it has the same genes as the original Plague) to taunt our modern communities today, apparently we would not begin to die in our millions, or a third of Ireland’s population and the same proportion in Europe would not be wiped out as before.
The story of whatever happened to the Bubonic Plague and What Has Chickenpox Got To Do With It, really emphasises the whole issue of trying to control, and ultimately attempt to eradicate all the germs? In fact in many ways we could say that we may very well be here today in much greater numbers, not just because our ancestors were exposed to the Plague of old, but, also because we have been exposed to such a relatively benign infection as Chickenpox; both propositions are strongly supported by some of our more recent scientific insights into natural immunity across generations.
Hence, parents were able to count more of their children because instead of falling down and continuing to die in our millions if we were suddenly confronted in our life time, it seems that having something as benign for most of us as the less deadly Pox (Chickenpox rather than Smallpox) is a fair trade off.
It seems that we have been looking at pathogens all wrong. You see, it isn’t the pathogens themselves that are the problem and need to be eradicated and stamped out – they have always existed and presumably still do. It is our familiarity to them (due to exposure) or unfamiliarity to them that seems to have made the difference between our mortality rates over the course of history rising, peaking and ultimately declining.
Take for example, if we are suddenly exposed to a foreign and unfamiliar pathogen, or have become too sanitised finding ourselves closed off to them or tip the balance due to high mobility, or any number of major shifts that arise from human progression, then, this disruption of the natural immunising generational cycle has in the past lead to devastating outbreaks.
This is clearly documented in our history books, which, have so vividly illustrated over the course of time how wars have been lost and won according to such epidemic outbreaks and history has sometimes taken a different path due to pathogens getting out of control.
Thankfully, however, as this study clearly maps out, after a relatively short period (in biological terms) order is always ultimately restored. It’s just a matter of time and scale as the mortality graphs presented throughout this study more than adequately illustrate.
These historical insights are fully supported by recently emerging molecular studies which are showing increasingly, that the more exposed and familiar you are – via exposure – to certain pathogens, the more protected you become from their attacks. Your immune system has become educated from familiarity to particular pathogens. This process can also be applied to entire communities and populations, where if these populations have been closed off from such exposure, or have never encountered such pathogens, or, had much dealings previously, then, the outcome can be quite devastating, at least initially.
These insights have been picked up by one highly regarded historian in particular, William McNeil who wrote a very influential book on the topic of typically much older infectious disease over the course of history, ‘Plagues and People’ (McNeill W.H. (1976) Plagues and Peoples. Anchor Books, New York, USA. . His conclusions provide a powerful model which has been applied throughout this present study and helps explain the near-universal decline in deaths from some of the scariest contagions known to humankind throughout history.
In essence, McNeill’s assessment outlines the pattern of when populations of the past become first exposed to an unfamiliar pathogen, the results were devastating, whether an isolated indigenous tribe suddenly finding themselves invaded by such pathogens due to colonisation by European explorers, or, due to opportunities opening up for invading pathogens within increasing populations congregating within densely sprawling developing urban centres, trading across continents with high mobility, the death toll can be enormous.
However, according to his hypothesis, which is certainly well supported throughout this present study and from the historical archives and mortality statistics where available (with a focus on Ireland), these same once much more deadly contagions begin to fade away. They essentially come in like a lion and out like a lamb.
McNeill offers a possible explanation for this phenomenon of declining death rates over time in terms a type of natural immunising effect, or the pathogens become increasingly attenuated (weakening of the pathogen’s impact) as increasing numbers of a given population build up individual immunity or resistance.
Overall, this immunising effect from exposure over time, would reach a point where, the pathogen could only invade less resilient hosts (those with the least direct previous experience), namely the infants and children. By which stage, these once deadlier contagions would ultimately become less harmful (avirulent) to the point where these become relatively benign childhood infections and eventually, even these would ultimately fade away into the recesses of time.
In his thesis, all in all, it would appear that previously unexposed populations suffer greatly – at least initially, and thereafter it is those individuals or portions of a population that are the least familiar with such pathogens, i.e., the least exposed who are often the most vulnerable and conversely, those with the greatest natural exposure and familiarity with such pathogens appear to be the most fortified against the bugs. As enough of a population become naturally immunised – the pathogen appears to fade away.
Moreover, McNeill’s model is employed specifically within this present study as not only a guide to help explain such a natural decline in deaths to full, or at least to near-full resolution, but it also offers a much more likely explanation than most of the other causes of such a decline, such as poor, or, improved hygiene, starvation or good nutrition, economic deprivation/growth, or via efforts or interventions on our part, or lack thereof, that when we drill down to the historical detail, do not correlate with the actual data.
For instance, Plague-like contagions such as Cholera, Dysentery, Typhus and even lesser contagions, namely, Typhoid Fever, according to historical sources documenting what was happening on the ground, strongly suggest that no amount of mending sewage pipes, delousing or keeping Typhoid Mary away from your kitchen could possibly account for the greater population statistics showing the dramatic decline in deaths from these once deadlier pathogen attacks.
Furthermore, it would also appear that on closer inspection that nutritional status as is commonly perceived to be another significant contributing factor in the overall pattern of mortality (deaths) relating to some of the most devastating contagions does not find support throughout the historical accounts either.
For example, during the worst years of hunger, strife and starvation such as seen in Ireland during the 1840s we find that the rates of deaths from having some of the older type contagions were much less than in previous generations. This was at a time when harvests were good, and the rates of deaths for the main diseases were proportionally comparable to other regions for the same period that did not experience such devastation.
Indeed, often it was the best fed, most affluent and those professionals attending the sick that faired the worst in these outbreaks of pestilence during this great time of strife, simply as they were often the most hygienic and therefore, least familiar to such rampant pathogens due to their previous lack of exposure.
Similarly, we find that our hygienic efforts in terms of medical interventions such as attempts to stamp out the reign of the bugs entirely, these measures do not correlate with what we see in the mortality statistics or the historical accounts either across our emerging modern nations.
In other words, all contagions presented throughout this present research are statistically demonstrated to have declined in their deadliness long before, or entirely without and often to spite our efforts to intervene in their demise. However, regarding a few of these, there are a few deeply embedded beliefs that would state that our interventions stopped a number of these pathogens dead in their tracks; Smallpox being a classic example, which on closer inspection, employing previously un-investigated sources and statistics, this may not actually be the case. And, again, something like Polio (a more modern and significantly lesser contagion by comparison in terms of its deadliness, although, it was devastating as a crippler) appears to be another case in point when we begin to drill down to the historical and statistical detail.
Overall, it would appear that deaths declined as a result of exposure to the point where almost everyone had over the course of history become highly resistant, if not near universally immune, to just about every major contagion known to humankind that we have a historical account of.
The good news is that these great plagues of the past may never return again in their old colours as more recent molecular studies strongly indicate as the immunising effect turns out to be ancestral/generational and due to the fact that our ancestors had these actual infections. It is all seemingly about exposure and general boosting of your immune system and passing this resistance on to your offspring. Although, for the most part, we have forgotten these great contagions of old and just how deadly they once were, thankfully, our immune systems have not. Perhaps we have a lot more to thank our ancestors for than we realised.
We could therefore use Smallpox as a metaphor for this natural immunising generational effect seen across all the greater and lesser contagions from the Plague to Polio presented throughout this book and in its main title: Don’t Count Your Children Before They’ve Had the Pox, (a play on Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Have Hatched), because, having and surviving the infection meant life-long immunity and parents could be more confident about counting more of their children knowing they now had a better chance of surviving into adulthood because they had the actual real Pox than if they had not back in the day when Smallpox was much more lethal.
While waiting for publication in paperback take a look at the