Ebola is not the next pandemic but logic can’t quell newfound paranoia

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 7, 2014

Our insensate fear of pandemics is not really very old at all, as Atlanta-based disease-specialist anthropologist Wendy Orent points out in her excellent Aeon piece. It “first infected the zeitgeist with the publication of Laurie Garrett’s ‘The Coming Plague’(1994) and Richard Preston’s ‘Hot Zone’ (1995),” she writes.

These books suggested that deadly viruses lay in wait for human intruders into nature’s deepest, most secret recesses. They resounded with the dark implication, according to Ms Orent, “perturb nature and she nails you in the end”.

That said, she admits that the fear is “confirmed by historical memory… plagues have killed a lot of people, and deadly diseases litter history like black confetti.”

She runs through the dreadful roll call:

The Antonine Plague in 165 CE, which killed millions of people in the Roman empire.

The Justinian Plague, mid-6th century, which spread from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Constantinople and other cities along the Mediterranean and as far north as Rennes in France and into the heart of Germany, killing millions.

The Black Death, 1348-50, (same virus as the Justinian,Yersinia pestis), which spread along the Silk Road to what is now Afghanistan, India, Persia, Constantinople, and thence across the Mediterranean to Italy and the rest of Europe, killing tens of millions worldwide.

The Spanish Flu of 1918 left 40 million dead around the world.

However terrifying the thought of a pandemic, Ms Orent counsels common sense.

(Tomorrow: The deadliest diseases are not those newly introduced into the human species)

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac