It’s interesting to reflect on how relatively helpless mankind is when a new microscopic virus comes along that hasn’t been seen before.

At the moment, the best advice we’ve been given is pretty basic: wash your hands a lot, keep at least six feet apart (“social distancing”), wear a mask and, if you can, stay home. That’s really not very scientific stuff.

Estimates are that it could take until well into 2021 to come up with new vaccine for COVID-19.

Think about how quickly this latest virus has spread, not just around one county, not just around one nation, but around the world. With all our medical knowledge and advancements in research, we’re still looking at a relatively long time to come up with a vaccine to prevent this rapidly spreading virus. Makes one wonder how far we’ve come in the prevention of outbreaks of new types of illnesses that occasionally pop up.

Some of us remember the polio epidemic of the early 1950s. The Spanish Influenza pandemic that took place between 1918 and 1920 was another new illness about which we didn’t know very much or could do very much. But, it could be much worse.

I read a fascinating article about The Plague, written by John Seven for the History Channel, that terrorized the people living at the time. The illness about which we knew even less then we know about the coronavirus today, The Plague was also called “The Black Death” and it devastated much of the world. Nearly 700 years ago it swept Europe and, “it still haunts the world as the worst-case scenario for an epidemic,” Severn writes. Also knows as the Bubonic plague because, “its symptoms are painfully swollen lymph glands that form pus-filled boils called buboes. Sufferers also face fever, chills, headaches, shortness of breath, hemorrhaging, bloody sputum, vomiting and delirium, and if it goes untreated, a survival rate only of 50 percent.”

The Plague arrived in France in 1347 and spread quickly through the country and the rest of Europe. Given the primitive state of medical knowledge in the 14th century, one can only imagine the degree of suffering that took place. Interestingly enough, people living during that time period could only really do the types of things we’re doing 700 years later. In Venice, Italy, for example, they shut down taverns and stopped the use of wine from unknown sources. “The canals filled with gondolas shouting official instructions for disposing of dead bodies. Despite those efforts, The Plague killed 60 percent of the Venetian population.”

Severn writes, “The Plague hit Marseille, Paris and Normandy, and then the strain split, with one strain moving on to the now-Belgian city of Tournai to the east and the other passing through Calais and Avignon, where 50 percent of the population died. The Plague also moved through Austria and Switzerland, where a fury of anti-Semitic massacres followed it along the Rhine after a rumor spread that Jews had caused the plague by poisoning wells.”

Not unlike today, The Plague began to subside when people began to self-quarantine. The year was 1351. It caused the deaths, “of anywhere between 25 to 50 million people, and lead to the massacres of 210 Jewish communities. All total, Europe lost about 50 percent of its population.”

By 1353, people thought the Black Death was behind them. “The people of Europe faced a changed society. The combination of the massive death rate and the numbers of survivors fleeing their homes sent entrenched social and economic systems spiraling. It became easier to get work for better wages and the average standard of living rose.”

Since the 14th century, however, the Bubonic Plague has never completely left, resurfacing several times through the centuries. There is a vaccine available now to prevent a pandemic of The Plague (or Black Death, as it is also called). I know that to be true because upon entering the army way back in 1968 we were all inoculated against The Plague, among other things.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the impact of The Plague on Medieval Europe: “The consequences of the Black Death have had both immediate and long-term effects on human population across the world. These include a series of biological, social, economic, political and religious upheavals which had profound effects on the course of world history, especially the history of Europe. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350 with an estimated one-third of the continent’s population ultimately succumbing to the disease.”

The main impact of the Black Death was the sheer number of people who died. Europe’s population dropped by half in the first several decades of The Plague, and had a huge impact on social and family life for communities throughout Europe.

Another impact of the Black Death was that the nature of The Plague meant that it impacted everyone equally. It did not matter if people were wealthy or poor, The Plague spread to all people of all classes.

The point of all this is to show that there are still things over which humanity has very little control. A vaccine will be found much more quickly today. There was no cure 700 years ago, but the basic ways to stop the creation of a worldwide pandemic appear to be about the same as they are today.

That’s —30— for this week

Retired Rush County businessman Paul W. Barada may be contacted via this publication at

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