Okay, it was almost unanimous! You want more on Covid-19… Oh well clearly no one listened to my plea for “no more”. So you asked for it and here it is, more on Covid-19…grrrrrrr….
Okay so we’re all bored of Covid-19 right, but like-it-or-not it hasn’t gone away and whilst many think we are now in the second wave I would argue it’s still the first wave… it never disappeared, we just went into hiding and now we are “out” again nothing has really changed since the last big peak of cases. Or has it? Surely, we have learned something about this new disease this year… haven’t we?
Back in the blog in August called “My pandemic is worse than your pandemic” I mentioned I might do a future blog on the ancient disease called Cocoliztli, which I had never heard of before… well for once I’ve remembered I said I would do a particular topic and here it is!
So I’ve delve into my historical medical books (and Google!) to look further into the unknown pandemic of Cocoliztli.
It is well known that imported infections from Europe with the Spanish Conquistadors caused many deaths; Smallpox for example was imported in about 1520 and killed about 8 million people. In fact during the 16th Century about 90% of the native population of Mexico was wiped out by disease. But as if Smallpox wasn’t enough, this was followed in 1545 by the first Cocoliztli epidemic which killed a further 15 million people. Local people called this disease Cocoliztli or “pest” and as pandemics go this one seems pretty bad! A further Cocoliztli epidemic in 1576 killed another 50% of the population, so by this time more than 90% of the natives had been killed in just over 50 years!
Did you know that guinea pigs cough? I didn’t… but then I’ve never had a pet guinea pig… In fact I’ve discovered that all mammals cough, who knew?! Guinea pigs apparently have a cough pathway (from something stimulating a cough through neural networks and chemical signals to the actual cough) that is the same as humans so they are a great animal model for studying coughs in humans…??
One of life’s unsolved mysteries is “how did life on Earth begin?” Did it start here spontaneously as “God created us” or did Darwin get it right with his “evolution theory”? And are we alone in our universe? Let’s skip the God versus Darwin bit and jump straight to the question “did life arrive from outer space” and “can life survive in space?”
When times get “trying” here on planet Earth ECIC wishes she was on Pluto with her cats, her rules and no people! But she may not be alone!! The newest research suggests that bacteria can survive in the hostile environment of space; maybe the dream of living on Pluto with remote “homeworking” for a Consultant Microbiologist might be a reality (our hospital computer system is called Enterprise after all!)
No, No, No, stick with me!!! It’s true, those pesky microorganisms have been found to survive on the outside of the ISS (International Space Station). There’s even a named theory… the theory that living organisms can survive and transfer through space is known as “panspermia”.
“I have a patient with facial cellulitis but they’re not responding to antibiotics, my Consultant has asked me to find out if there is a stronger antibiotic we can give” said the oncall doctor.
The Microbiologist rolled his eyes; why do people persist in thinking about antibiotics in terms of “stronger” when what they really mean is “broader spectrum”!
“Why don’t you start by telling me something about the patient?” said the Microbiologist through gritted teeth.
“Oh, okay” said the Doctor, thinking this was just going to waste more of his precious time.
“She has just returned from trekking in Bolivia where they stayed in mud huts. The patient thinks they might have been bitten on the face as there were quite a lot of big beetles around. She now has a swollen right eye and we’ve been giving IV Teicoplanin but it hasn’t made any difference so we want to give her something… stronger.”
His curiosity piqued, the Microbiologist let the latest “stronger” slip past.
“Are both upper and lower eyelids swollen? What did the insects look like exactly?”
Back in November last year I wrote a blog about tick borne encephalitis (TBE) in the UK caused by viruses under the title “Deadly brain disease passed by ticks now in Britain”… not my title but rather the Telegraph newspaper. This was related to the discovery of deer ticks in Thetford Forest which showed evidence of infection with the TBE Flaviviruses. However this isn’t the only cause of TBE in the World, there are others such as the parasitic disease babesiosis… and you’ve guessed it…. we now have it here in the UK! Wonderful!?
More and more of us are being affected by imposed quarantine measures (sometimes at very short notice!). Holiday plans are all over the place (we are not going to the Drakensberg’s, our flight is cancelled, UK residents are banned and there is 14 days of quarantine even if we could get in! Boom, our holiday’s gone BUST!). There is mass quarantining on a global scale. But added to this is the fact that in the UK you must also quarantine yourself if you are exposed to a person with Covid-19. No ifs, no buts, do not pass “Go”, do not “collect £200”. But where does the term quarantine come from, what does it mean and are we “actually” using it correctly?
Okay, you don’t really need me to tell you that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a bit of a nightmare; medically, socially and psychologically. As of the 12th August there have been 20.4 million cases reported worldwide with 744,000 deaths. These are pretty scary numbers but large scale death and destruction from infectious diseases is nothing new.
Infectious diseases have been the leading cause of death for the human species, and over recent centuries there have been some horrendous pandemics that make Covid-19 so far look pretty small. In this blog I’m going to look at just 3 infectious diseases whose pandemics give Covid-19 some perspective…
Cue wavy lines and wobbly music as we go back in time to the 6th Century…
The first of our “recent” plague pandemics is known as the Plague of Justinian (541-542), which affected the Eastern Roman Empire, especially Constantinople and the Mediterranean region. It is estimated to have killed 50 million people during the initial pandemic and in the 200 years after when it continued to circulate. This was up to a quarter of the World’s population at this time! Justinian I was Emperor of Rome when the pandemic started; apparently he caught the plague but survived.
The next plague pandemic was the Black Death (1347-1353) which killed an estimated 30-60% of the population of Europe, about 100-125 million people! There are thousands of ossuaries (bone collections) in Churches around Europe full of the remains of those killed by the Black Death. The Black Death resulted in a number of social, religious and political upheavals that shaped the future of Europe including movement of people in to cities, decline of the power of the Church and increased power of governments.
Editor Chief in Charge and I have spent the weekend trying to work out what we’re going to do if/when we can’t go on holiday later this year because of a certain unmentionable pesky virus. The basic answer is that we might not be going somewhere exotic! But why might not being able to go on holiday somewhere exotic be a good idea?!?
I know… pufferfish!
Pufferfish are tropical fish found especially in Asia. They are called pufferfish because they have a rather unusual defence strategy; they can fill their stomachs with water so that they balloon up into a ball shooting numerous spiky spines outwards. Any predator stupid enough to try and eat a pufferfish gets a mouth or stomach full of spines and probably chokes… nasty. Bloat, from the Disney film “Finding Nemo” was a pufferfish; he blows up like a beach ball every time something startles him… he’s my favourite character and he’s hilarious!
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