In 1720s Marseille Plague, 1820s Cholera, 1920 Spanish Flu, 2020… Coronavirus?
The earliest known pandemic was recorded in France, known as Great Plague of Marseille in 1720, exactly 300 years ago. This plague was the last of the significant European outbreaks of bubonic plague. The virus killed a little over 100,000 people. Out of this number, 50,000 were city dwellers, while during the next two years an equal number in the north and surrounding provinces. However, unlike in Corona, and despite the large number of fatalities, Marseille recovered fast from the outbreak. Economic activity took a few years to recover, as trading expanded to the West Indies and South America.
The people at Marseilles took dramatic measures in controlling the spread of disease. The Marseilles city council established a sanitation board consisting members drawn from the city council and doctors of the city. The newly-recognised board made a sequence of recommendations to preserve the health of the city.
They also found a State official team to maintain health services of Marseilles. The sanitation board sought to assemble public infrastructure in addition to defending the city from outside vulnerabilities. The first government hospital of Marseilles was also constructed during this period and was provided with a fully-fledged medical staff. The sanitation board sought to provide citizens with a list of doctors too, citing misinformation that propagated during the plague.
When it reached Marseille, the Levant Port was swiftly placed under quarantine by relevant authorities. Marseille had a monopoly on French trade with the Levant, where it had a large stock of imported merchandise in warehouses. It was a time when France was expanding trade with other regions in the Middle East and new markets in the world. City merchants needed cotton and silk cargo. They pressured authorities to lift the quarantine.
"Cholera pandemic 1820, also known as the Asiatic cholera pandemic, commenced near the city of Calcutta, India and spread throughout South Asia, the Middle East, East Africa. It reached as far as the Mediterranean Sea"
It took only a few days for the disease to break out in the city. Hospices were quickly inundated, and people panicked, they drew the sick from their homes. Mass graves were filled. Ultimately, the number of deaths overcame public health efforts; thousands of dead bodies lay scattered around the city.
An Act of Parliament of Aix was passed in an attempt to stop the plague from spreading, which included levying death penalty for communicating between the city of Marseille and the rest of Provence. A plague wall was built to enforce this separation. It was erected across the countryside. Guard posts were set back from the wall. Remains of this plague wall can be seen in different parts even today.
During the two-year period, 60 per cent of the population of 90,000 died before an equal number of fatalities were announced from adjoining areas later. After the pandemic subsided, the government strengthened plague resistance of the port. It built a double line of fifteen-foot wall. Merchants were required to go through an inspection in an island outside the harbour where cargo and crew were examined.
During the excavation of a mass grave in 1998 -- conducted by Université de la Méditerranée, of victims during the plague outbreak, it provided an occasion to study nearly 300 skeletons from the second attack in Marseille. Modern laboratory testing and archival records were considered to determine the circumstances and dates surrounding the utilisation of the mass grave. It revealed formerly unknown facts of epidemic of 1722. Reconstruction of the skull of a 15-year-old boy revealed the first past evidence of an autopsy conducted during the spring of 1722.
Cholera pandemic 1820
Cholera pandemic 1820, also known as the Asiatic cholera pandemic, commenced near the city of Calcutta, India and spread throughout South Asia, the Middle East, East Africa. It reached as far as the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of thousands died as a result of this pandemic including a large number of British soldiers. This was the first of several cholera pandemics that swept through Asia and Europe. It spread over an unprecedented range of the globe, affecting almost every Asian nation.
It was endemic to the lower ranges of Ganges River. During festivals known as Kumbh Mela, on the upper Ganges River where pilgrims invariably contracted the disease and carried it to other parts on their returns, where it would spread. The first cholera pandemic started the same way. The outbreak is suspected to have begun in 1817. Some epidemiologists have suggested that it extended globally through a Hindu pilgrimage. In 1817, cholera began spreading to outer surface of the Ganges delta by September 1817, and had reached Calcutta and quickly spread to the subcontinent. The disease broke out in Bombay by 1818.
"It took only a few days for the disease to break out in the city. Hospices were quickly inundated, and people panicked, they drew the sick from their homes. Mass graves were filled. The number of deaths overcame public health efforts"
The disease was identified in Thailand in March 1820 and in May the same year,it had spread as far as Manila, and in spring of 1821, it spread to Oman and China. The following year it was found in Japan and Syria, and by 1823, the epidemic reached Mauritius and subsided in 1824. Some researchers believed that was due to the cold winter of 1824 which would have killed the bacteria. The association of British Army personnel is believed to have contributed to the spread of the pandemic. Hindus carried cholera within the subcontinent, but British Army carried it overland. The naval ships carried people with the disease to the Indian Ocean, from Africa to Indonesia, and to China and Japan.
Total deaths from it remain unaccounted. They have estimated death tolls; some estimate 32,000 deaths in Thailand from the disease. India, the initial mortality rate was estimated to be 1.2 million per year, placing the death toll at 8.7 million. David Arnold wrote: “The death toll in 1817-21 was undoubtedly high, but there is no evidence to suggest it was over 8 million. The whole of India, with a population of some 120-150 million (during early 19C), the total number of deaths would have been no more than one or two million.”
“Tasmhi butani samētha sabbe --Karōtha manusiya pajaya Divaca rattō ca haranti yē balim Tasmahi ne rakkhatha appa-matta” (Translation: Listen here, all deities! Shower your loving-kindness to those humans who, day and night, bring offerings to you. Therefore, guard them diligently: Rathana
(During Wisala Endemic).