Evolution of Epidemics

As a microbiologist, the reading this week on the evolution of disease spread throughout the world mostly due to colonization was very interesting to me. It is rather interesting to think about how illness and disease can spread throughout the world, especially when it reaches a community it has never seen before. When a person’s immune system has never seen a pathogen or antigen before, the only possible defenses the body has are from the innate (born with) immune system. When something as detrimental as small pox comes around (which was bad even for people who had been around it in Europe, who had built more of an immunity) the new hosts were basically defenseless. Without antibodies and memory cells already made for the disease, and a very low survival rate, things were not looking good.

As it was shown in the paper, extreme proportions of the indigenous american communities were killed off. With the exact pathogen cause unknown, we are still able to point fingers at the colonizers as playing a major role in this devastation. Now, in a world where global travel is not only widely accessible, it is frequent, the spread of disease is much more interesting (and worrisome). It makes me think back to the popular app game called Plague Inc, in which the player builds a disease trying to wipe out the worlds population before a cure can be made and distributed. One of the first things that happened as soon as the “world” learned of the new disease, was the shut down of air or boat travel to and from specific countries. And yet with all of this, the game was still beatable. Because to shut everything down truly in its entirety, there is money being lost, goods not being distributed, etc. There are these influential factors nowadays that feed into why we still have this major issue of disease spread, and even with the advent of modern medicine, we cannot seem to get it under control.

In a way, we should consider ourselves lucky that Edward Jenner invented the small pox vaccine in the late 18th century, and revolutionized modern medicine. But when there is still the drive of capitalism, the archaic ideals of “Complete freedom” and “manifest destiny”, we will never truly be able to escape the invisible world of pathogens. Human will and need for dominion over others is really setting itself up to be our greatest downfall, and perhaps even the precursor for the sixth major extinction event the Earth will face.

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