For thousands of years smallpox had been destroying human populations; riddling peoples skin with macules and papules, vesicles and pustules. Death resulted from internal bleeding, sepsis, immune deficiency, or heart failure. Millions of people died every year until as recently as the late 1960s. But thankfully due to the genius discovery of inoculation we as a species have been fighting back against this virus.
Medics the world over under the guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) had been inoculating everybody, quarantining outbreaks, and preventing the spread; visiting the world’s remotest places to administer the vaccine, in a truly heroic global effort. Then on the 9th of December 1979 it was announced to the world that smallpox had been eradicated. Humanity had resoundingly triumphed against an age old enemy. A sub-microscopic barely living strand of parasitic ribonucleic acid molecules had been vanquished. For the first time in history our medical scientists had completely eradicated an infectious disease. The world had just become a nice place, more conducive to wellbeing and flourishing. It also promised so much; what other medical horrors would we soon be manipulating into oblivion? As it turns out, we were about to be disappointed.
Smallpox is gone, and has stayed gone, but just around the corner a quickly evolving and previously rare virus was about to rear its ugly head. HIV seemed to have come out of nowhere, but these things always do. Over the centuries many plagues have ravaged Europe and elsewhere, and they have mostly if not always been incurable. Millions died, but fortunately for us not everyone succumbed. Some people by luck of the genetic draw were immune to infection from plague, and they are our ancestors. We are the evolved descendants of plague resistant few. Perhaps AIDS will play out in a similar way, we will never conquer it medically, and only those with a natural immunity will survive. Or perhaps, as medical science advances we will send it the same way we sent smallpox.
However the triumphant new dawn heralded by the victory over smallpox was short-lived. Yes it was a wonderful milestone: the first infectious disease to be eradicated. But it did not spell a furious spree of further eradications. In the 30-ish years since the death of smallpox we have inconspicuously failed to put the nails into the coffins of any other infectious diseases. That is until last Thursday.
On the 14th October 2010 the announcement was made. Humanity had tallied up its second victory over a terrible infectious disease. And what was this terrible blight now consigned to the virulent dustbin of history? HIV, rabies or the common cold? Polio, herpes, influenza or rubella? Erm... well, no. The second viral disease to be destroyed is the infamous rinderpest... no, me neither. Not even Microsoft spellchecker has heard of it; (No Spelling Suggestions). Apparently it infected cattle and occasionally caused plagues, killing entire herds, and bringing farming communities to their knees. Sadly it’s gone now and I think I’ll miss it. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuck into eradicating AIDS and the rest of the bunch.
No idea why I decided to tackle such a complicated historical, epidemiological, scientific, pathological subject at such a ridiculous time, and with such dangerous lack of qualification in any related subjects. I’m practicing dealing with a lot of information all at once; simultaneously trying to research, comprehend, form into a narrative and reach some conclusions, and hopefully be witty and informative. Certainly a worthy pursuit, but not one I have much chance of succeeding in when I am this tired and this underprepared. Also the different strands of information proved too much for me and I completely missed out any discussion of the impending eradication of polio, and the cultural obstacles blocking the efforts of public health workers. Ahh well, I’ve got the rest of my (hopefully) healthy life for discussions about whatever and study of miscellanea.