Comparing the AIDS Epidemic and The Plague


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Comparing the AIDS Epidemic and The Plague


The destruction and devastation caused by the 'Black Death' of the Middle Ages was a phenomenon left to wonder at in text books of historical Europe. An unstoppable plague swept the continent taking as much as eighty percent of the European population along with it (Forsyth).

Today the world is plagued with a similar deadly disease. The AIDS epidemic continues to be incurable. In an essay written by David Herlihy, entitled 'Bubonic Plague: Historical Epidemiology and the Medical Problems,' the historic bubonic plague is compared with
the current AIDS epidemic of today. According to his research, AIDS will probably prove to be the plague of the millennium (Herlihy p. 18).

If one compares the epidemiology and social impact of these diseases they prove to be quite similar. The current AIDS epidemic has the potential to be the most dangerous and destructive plague of the millennium. No one knows exactly how the AIDS virus erupted. However, one presently dominant theory states that AIDS originated from monkeys in Africa
that transmitted the HIV virus to humans through bites (Forsyth). As people migrated it reached Haiti and then spread to America (Clark p. 65).

The bubonic plague, too, was a spontaneous epidemic. The Black Death occurred because a bacillus was carried by fleas that fed off the blood of humans and transmitted the deadly bacillus in the process (Packer). It began in China and spread by
migration throughout all of Europe and even America (Forsyth). Efforts to contain both diseases were entirely unsuccessful. AIDS is now an international problem as was
the bubonic plague. Like the bubonic plague did in the Middle Ages, AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate. In 1994 seventeen million people around the world were
infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, and four million had developed the disease (Packer). It is estimated that by the year 2000 more than forty million people, ninety percent in developing countries will be infected (Packer).

The Black Death of the Middle Ages exterminated a third of the population of Europe in just four years. Also, like the bubonic plague, AIDS was once only found among certain delineated social groups: (Herlihy p. 18) drug abusers and homosexuals in this country and in prostitutes and their contacts in Africa. Due to the early epidemiology of AIDS cases, it was believed that only certain populations in specific areas were infected. Aids may have started out in small communities, but it spread quickly and widely.

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We
are now aware that the HIV virus is not limited in its selection of hosts. Anyone can become infected despite one?s background. Similarly, the plague of the Middle Ages
was once believed to only infect the impoverished. Royalty was quick to learn. People of various social statures ultimately became victims. Socially people responded in
similar fashions to these scourges. When AIDS first arrived, families often withdrew from their loved one?s because they were ashamed or they did not want to deal with the heartbreaking struggle of a long painful death of a family member. Society shunned AIDS victims, fearing the contagious threat of any contact. During the Middle Ages
families would place their ill relatives in the streets to die. It was too much of a risk to aid the infected because commonly those who did became infected as well. It was
even believed that one could become infected just through a stare from someone who was infected. Presently and in the past, infected peoples have been disregarded and feared. It is because of superstitions and prejudices that societies live in ignorance and fear.

When compared with the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages, the epidemiology and virulence of the AIDS virus are strikingly similar. ? If history remains a reliable guide, this epidemic too will run its vicious course, spreading acute misery. Then it will take its place in the background of the ecosystem, alongside the organisms that cause influenza, syphilis, measles and a host of other infections.?(Manning) The similar characteristics of the bubonic plague and the HIV virus threaten AIDS to be the most dangerous and destructive plague of the millennium as David Herlihy proposed.


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