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Pigs, hens, cows... who next?
Humans have fallen prey to deadly diseases much easier than expected. With the advancement of science, we’ve won some battles but clearly not the war; and as experience shows, we’re waiting for the next animal...

Perhaps the most lethal but less talked about weapon of mass destruction is emergence and re-emergence of deadly epidemics and endemics. History clearly proves that epidemics have wreaked more havoc in this world than wars; and not just in terms of the death count.

To begin with, who can forget the Spanish flu? Well, we all can! In fact, our guess is nobody even remembers the fact that this influenza strain brought disaster to Europe in 1918, and wiped out 5.5% of the global population – a 100 million people across the globe died at a time when the population of the world was merely 1,800 million. More than 900 million caught the flu. The flu had a far greater impact than World War I, where total deaths were estimated to be 15 million. In just 18 months if the flu’s existence, it killed about 650,000 Americans, 450,000 Russians, 375,000 Italians, 228,000 British, 500,000 Mexicans, 44,000 Canadians and many millions more in the Asian subcontinent. Considering its severity, it has been named as the most lethal recorded epidemic in human history. And a majority of civilians today have no idea about it.

Many other epidemics have occurred in history. The major plague ran during 1855-1896 worldwide, but mostly in China and India, wherein more than 12 million died. Likewise, endemics like cholera took millions of lives and reemerged on a global scale eight times: during 1817-1823, 1829-1851, 1852-1859, 1863-1879, 1881-1896, 1899-1923, 1961-1970, and from 1991 to the present. And it kills more efficiently than flu. For example, over 20,500 of 30,000 people affected died in Egypt during 1947.

The Asian flu too took 2 million lives worldwide in 1957. Although most Americans had lived through the typhoid and small pox epidemics of 1876 and 1890, its debilitating effects, and those of yellow fever and diphtheria, are still well within living memory across the world.

Even in this modern 21st century, the number of people dying because of epidemics is more than people dying in wars or terror attacks. According to the World Health Report 2004, if 7.2 million people die of ischaemic heart disease every year and 5.5 million out of Cerebrovascular disease, then 3.9 million also die out of lower respiratory infections.
One of the deadliest diseases, HIV/AIDS, kills 2.8 million every year, with over 39.4 million people living with HIV today. Over 32.7 million die every year from just 12 leading diseases worldwide. The World Health Report 2004 further reveals that out of the 57 million who died in the world in 2002 out of diseases, 33.5 million died out of non-communicable diseases, 18.3 million died out of communicable diseases, perinatal and nutritional conditions (rest from other external injuries).

Though medical science is advancing, so is the emergence of new viruses; in just 39 years, 40 new viruses have emerged, including Ebola, HIV, H1N1, H2N2. Avian, swine, mouth-and-foot, salmonella... although we’re winning the battles, scientists accept we’re not even close to winning the war – in fact, some say they don’t even have an idea where the war is supposed to take place.

In the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, cult author Professor Jared Diamond proves how Eurasian cultures have ruled all the other continents by spreading their ‘germs’ within foreign populations, thus killing them en masse, consequently allowing Eurasians to gain physical superiority.

One hopes he writes an epilogue for his book for the 2000s, as for a change, those are animals that seem to be getting a physical superiority over us...

By:- Akram Hoque

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