A man sprays the top of a bus with an anti-flu virus in London, in March 1920, during the epidemic that followed World War One. Public health measures such as this were powerless in preventing its widespread transmission
This post is the fourth instalment of chapter nine from Breaking the Code of History, which I am sharing with you, split over a number of days. If you haven't already please check out the first instalment below:
- The Disease Cycle of Empire
- Diseases of Expansion of Empire - Part 1
- Diseases of Expansion of Empire - Part 2
- Diseases of Contraction of Empire
- Diseases of the Future
This chapter will help you understand how diseases have affected previous empires and how it could effect the Chinese empire of today.
Diseases of Contraction of Empire
Opportunistic Diseases of Contraction of Empire
Following the successes against bacterial and parasitic diseases, it is now viral epidemics that present the biggest threat to the WCSE in overextension and decline. The main disease reservoirs are in Asia, which is just moving out of its regional phase into ascension to empire, and so has the capacity to export its diseases through extensive trade links to more vulnerable areas of the world, such as the declining WCSE. Africa, in early regionalisation, is also a threat, having been the crucible for both HIV and ebola. Viral Influenzas After the trauma of the peak civil war of 1914–18, the WCSE was ravaged by influenza. The epidemic is believed to have started in Flanders in May 1918 and it went on to kill 50 percent of its combat-exhausted victims. The news of the outbreak was suppressed
1 Viral Influenzas
After the trauma of the peak civil war of 1914–18, the WCSE was ravaged by influenza. The epidemic is believed to have started in Flanders in May 1918 and it went on to kill 50 percent of its combat-exhausted victims. The news of the outbreak was suppressed
However, in 1996, H5N1 (avian flu) was identified in Guangdong, China, and by 1997 it had reached as far as Hong Kong, where it killed six people. Rapid and exemplary action by the authorities contained what could well have become a global epidemic.
Avian flu lives in the intestines of birds and is initially transmitted by contact with their droppings (following which human-to-human transmission can occur). Taking this infection route, avian flu jumped to the local wild-bird population, from which, carried along migratory paths, it passed to the European bird population. To date, 315 H5N1 cases have been recorded in the human population, of which a sobering 191 victims died.
More recently, in mid-February 2003 and again in China, a mysterious respiratory infection appeared, killing five people. The Chinese authorities covered up the crisis, so it was not until 15 March 2003 that the WHO declared a travel emergency to limit the spread of the disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In reality, the disease was probably five months old by the time it was recognised in China, as its first victims had gone undetected by government agencies. The pathology of the transmission of SARS is a salutary reminder of how quickly a new disease could spread across the world. By July 2003, SARS had vanished as quickly as it had appeared, but in its short lifespan it had spread across the globe via airborne droplets exhaled by its carriers, infecting 8,000 people and killing 700 of its victims.
Most recently, we have had the threat of worldwide epidemics from avian flu (2008) and swine flu (2009), both originating from emerging nations. Although causing public alarm – swine flu in particular was very effective in its ability to transmit itself – neither resulted in widespread epidemics, although the latter strain prompted the mass-production and stockpiling of Tamiflu, the antiviral drug.
This record makes it likely that Asia will act as a disease reservoir for future serious epidemics in the waning WCSE. Despite the anticipated economic hardship of the next decade, it is imperative that national health organisations and the WHO remain vigilant and are provided with sufficient resources to combat a potential future outbreak. Combating flu is difficult for modern medicine because a vaccine has to be created for each and every strain, although generic anti-viral treatment is able to slow the spread of a virus to allow time for a suitable vaccine to be produced. Whatever the viral source, the next pandemic will be a great challenge for the Western nations with their declining power, resource bases and corresponding social stress.
2 HIV and AIDS
HIV depresses the immune system to a point where an opportunistic disease kills the victim. Medical advances have reduced its impact in developed nations, but it is still ravaging the poorer regions of the world.
This virus was first discovered in 1980, although it is thought to have originated in western equatorial Africa some time between 1930 and 1950. The HIV-1 virus is closely related to the harmless Simian Immune Deficiency virus of chimpanzees, which may have crossed the species barrier to hunters via cuts or consumption. The virus has a very long incubation period and a nebulous symptomatology, which helped to delay its recognition for decades. The disease is a retrovirus that is transmitted sexually from human to human, or via contaminated needles or blood products. HIV breaks down the immune system, which then opens the door to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). As such, it can be viewed as a disease of the decline of the WCSE, associated with a reduced collective immune system.
Like syphilis before it, HIV initially suffered from social stigma due to its modes of transmission (e.g. homosexual sex). The virus had incubated slowly and finally unleashed its devastating effects in an HIV pandemic that has since killed millions. Ironically, this coincided with the eradication of smallpox and the belief that science would in time win the war against disease. Because AIDS at first carried the stigma of affecting only high-risk groups, denial was a common response and politicians were slow to mobilise funding to counter the threat. The trigger for change was its leap into the heterosexual community and the risk of the infection of blood banks, which could affect the wider population. Isolating the victim was not an option due to its long incubation period. Indeed, with the exception of the first wave of syphilis in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, doctors had no prior disease that could be used to model and combat its spread.
In Africa, the disease spread from its source in the west along the trucking trade routes, soon to be known as the AIDS highways, and from there to all corners of Africa and to all sections of its society. In Uganda it was given the named ‘slim disease’ because its victims wasted away and died. The pattern was matched in the US, as cases jumped from zero in 1980 to 7,699 in 1984, of which 3,665 died, with a similar pattern of mortality rates emerging in Europe. Its expansion continued, so that by the beginning of the twenty-first century the pandemic was causing 3 million deaths a year
The first scientific breakthrough came in 1987 with AZT (azidothymidine), the first anti-viral drug. This was extremely expensive and only slowed the effects of the virus rather than curing the disease. A decade later, another treatment regime, Highly Active Anti Retroviral therapy (HART), was developed – an anti-viral cocktail that allowed HIV suffers to return to normal life, even though they still carried the virus. Consequently, death rates dropped significantly across the Western world. However,the expense and complications of the treatment regime have meant that the HIV virus has continued unabated in poorer areas of the world, such as Africa.
The statistics are shocking: some 65 million infected with HIV; 25 million already dead; 3 million dying each year, half of whom are children; and 6,000 people infected every day (see Figure 54). The lowered immune systems of the victims have offered TB a new lease on life, compounding the death rates of HIV sufferers.
Endemic and Future Diseases of Contraction of Empire
The endemic diseases of the contraction phase of the WCSE are so-called lifestyle diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, rather than the endemic diseases of the expansionary phase, such as malaria and typhus. However, as we have seen, there are signs that bacterial diseases, like TB, are resurging in new, more virulent strains. This demonstrates again that the declining phase of a system provides fertile ground for new and old diseases. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that some diseases, like peptic ulcers and some cancers, may be associated with precursor viruses and bacteria, adding a new layer of complexity.
We must identify the theories that underlie historical cycles, learn the lessons and apply them to today’s changing world. Studying the ebb and flow of empires throughout history, in particular, can enable us to pinpoint the mechanisms that cause civilisations to rise and fall. Read about the book, an introduction to BTCH, feedback or purchase the book direct.