Social historians need a story to tell about a pandemic

At the beginning of the 20th century, advances in modern medicine and technology led humans to feel confident that they had conquered pandemics.
But we were wrong.
From the pandemic flu, which killed tens of millions of people, to the plague that descended on Los Angeles, “the city of angels”;
From parrot fever, which caused the mysterious death of an American noblewoman, to ebola, which can lead to hemorrhaging after infection, every outbreak has been a shock to human confidence.
Pandemic influenza, AIDS, ebola, SARS…
The great human plague: a global epidemic in the past century reproduces 10 pandemics that have attacked the world and threatened the entire human race in a case-like style, reflecting on the experience and lessons learned from the 100-year history of modern pestilence in which human beings co-existed and played with deadly bacteria.
This is the preface written by professor gao xi from the history department of fudan university in the context of xinguan global pandemic. The paper is authorized by citic publishing group.

“It is a widely accepted truth in the industry that social historians must need a story to tell about a pandemic…
The plot starts from the special node of the outbreak of infectious diseases, and on the stage with limited space and time, it renders the crisis of individuals and groups to the utmost. With the help of dramatic conflict performance, it conveys the revelation of tension, and then comes to the end.
But what if the details of the epidemic are obscured, or there is no obvious crisis?
That is the challenge for historians of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.”
Is this book the author mark, nice baum, Mr In the lancet, as the Spanish flu: Spain and cultural definition of narrative book, write a book review, direct clearly expressed his understanding of the history writing of infectious diseases: in pursuit of the drama of conflict, depicting the crisis of individual and society at the same time, attaches great importance to capture the details of the history.
This concept is different from the rigorous academic research on medical history and infectious disease history, and is closer to the documentary report of the nature of science popularization.
This style of writing is related to the identity of honisbaum, an author and journalist who was chief correspondent of the observer newspaper in the UK and an investigative reporter and feature writer for newspapers such as the evening standard, the independent on Sunday and the guardian.
He is currently a senior lecturer and director of events at city university London’s department of journalism.
A prolific author whose interest is in The world’s history of infectious diseases, he has published four books on The subject since 2003: “The Fever Trail in Search of The Cure for Malaria” (2003);
Living with Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 (2009), nominated as The royal society’s science book of The year in 2009;
Big flu epidemic in 2013 s: Death, Panic and Hysteria, 1830-1920 (A History of the Great state-run Influenza Pandemics: Death, Panic and Hysteria, 1830-1920), and the book “the Great plague of mankind”.
In addition, he has published dozens of academic book reviews and papers in professional journals such as the lancet, history of medicine, social history of medicine and philosophy of life sciences.
Honisbaum’s work is rigidly in keeping with his own approved writing style, with both detail and danger.
The narrative of the great human plague begins on July 1, 1916. The author opens his story with the terrifying “shark bite incident” on the island of jersey, New Jersey in the United States. He selects the cases of major infectious diseases that have occurred in the world in the past 100 years, and reviews the process of human beings living and killing with the plague in the past century.
Through archives, letters, diaries, media reports, commercials and oral interviews, he combed through the responses of individuals (patients, doctors, family members), communities, the state and public opinion after each outbreak and reconstructed the historical scenes as much as possible.
Like a good war correspondent, he was stationed in camps in Europe, North America and Africa, following the virus’s path.
He is a professional science journalist who, while faithfully reporting on the work of scientists in the laboratory, breaks down terms such as molecular biology and retroviruses in plain language to make infectious disease common knowledge understandable to the public.
Journalism and history as background made Mr Baum’s works can leisurely across one hundred years long history and thought history depth, there is no lack of again news wide-angle width and hot, the second chapter “the plague of the city of angels” is about the plague event in Los Angeles in 1924, the author through newspaper ads and town government planning, analyzes the two cities — New York and Los Angeles American coasts – different reaction of the government and businessmen, reveals the outbreak in the process, there is a invisible hand – commercial real estate developers – influence the disease resistance of government decision-making,
The commercial competition between the two big cities and their media has led to public opinion and social disintegration.
Found in the scientific process of explain yersinia pestis, the author will view toward northeast China, back in 1910 in Harbin plague horror, wu lien-teh explain Chinese scientists and scientists in other countries how to form a community of scientists in the laboratory confirmed the existence of yersinia pestis, which render into the history of the global fight against the plague of the 20th century.
Such works make readers enjoy themselves and feel the urge to finish them at one sitting.
Honisbaum’s history of infectious diseases follows the trajectory of infectious diseases, spanning time, space, borders, nations, and cultures.
He believes that for the doctors of the time, they could not tell whether the flu would come back or not, but historians can have a long time to look at the accumulation of data and analyze the extensibility and social reaction of the event.
At the same time, historians can follow scientists’ research to trace the causes and paths of disease, and use the information obtained by local scientists in the laboratory after repeated tests to paint a complete picture of the spectrum of modern infectious diseases.
Such as narrative about outbreak of Spanish influenza in 1918, the author will forward timeline recourse to the Russian flu in 1889, back in the 1957 Asian flu, flu in Hong Kong in 1968, has been extended to the 1990 s, describes how the scientists in the United States institute of pathology from 1918 died of flu get virus genes, Alaska’s female patients found virus strain genome sequence until 2005, so as to uncover the truth of the Spanish flu outbreak, for this period of history ended.
Mr Baum’s writings frequently used in The three key words: “great plague”, “Panic”, and “Hysteria”, 2013 book name, while The English title of this book (The studio Century, One, Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris) continuation of The theme, and added The word “arrogance” (Hubris).
The author believes that the plague was a source of gossip and panic, and quotes the Philadelphia inquirer as saying, “fear is the greatest accomplice of the flu.”
The Spanish flu of 1918-19 killed 50 million people, almost 3 percent of the world’s population at the time, making it the largest infectious disease of the 20th century.
This “great plague” has attracted the interest of many historians, and since 2000 alone nearly 100 monographs have been published in different languages.
When the author first touched upon the subject in 2005, he first focused on the British society he knew. His 2009 book, living with enza: the forgotten British story and the 1918 flu pandemic, described how fear of disease permeated Victorian culture.
The authors argue that influenza was a barometer of social and cultural anxiety around the world in the 20th century, and that the economic recession and social degradation caused by influenza triggered fears among the population.
The author continues his interest in the subject with his previous book, which shifts its focus from Victorian England to the north American army.
According to the records of the time, the body of the 1918 flu patients would take on a deep purple hue. The author borrowed the dark blue “helianthus cyanosis flower” to refer to the 1918 flu as “blue death”, which was a metaphor for the fear state of the public and society at that time.
“When the pathogen is unknown or uncertain, and information about the outbreak is blocked, gossip — and the accompanying fear — quickly spirals out of control.”
The authors argue that new channels of information dissemination, such as the invention of the telegraph and the rise of the mass media, can fuel public hysteria and amplify these fears.
Information about the 1924 Los Angeles plague was first leaked by the media, using “strange disease,” “near death,” “victims of the black death,” and “13 people in Los Angeles died of pneumonic plague, fear of four” and other highly inflammatory words.
The Philadelphia inquirer said: “the panic is so severe that it is fear.”
When angelenos were still in a panic about the plague, most of the ports in the Mediterranean also experienced an outbreak of the plague, and the U.S. government initiated port quarantine. At that time, the United States was faced with pneumonic plague at home and bubonic plague imported from abroad.
This situation is the same as the current situation in China, where the number of imported covid-19 cases is on the rise while the number of covid-19 cases has not been completely eliminated. Thanks to the Chinese government’s early establishment of a complete anti-epidemic detection system, the Chinese government has been able to cope with the influx of returnees in an orderly manner, without plunging the whole society and people into hysterical panic.
In addition, political factors can also influence and even influence the interpretation of the plague. The sudden outbreak of “legionnaires’ disease” in Philadelphia in 1976 touched the nerve of cold war fears that it was caused by biological weapons and chemical toxins, so that the us congress became nervous, fearing that it would be a “missed alarm”.
When AIDS suddenly emerged, there was a rumor that “the virus was created by a conspiracy of the pentagon, the pharmaceutical giants and the cia in a biological weapons laboratory.”
The media often play a role in stoking social fears.
But the journalist-turned-author has to defend the influence of the media. When it comes to AIDS cases, he says:
It is hard to say when this stigma turned into hysteria, a panic about the threat to society posed by sufferers.
At first, the public reacted coolly to the news of the AIDS outbreak…
This indifference is partly due to ignorance, partly to prejudice…
Many people see AIDS as something that can be passed on through contact, which has led to…
“The epidemic of fear”…
Scientists and medical scientists, not the media, are largely responsible for the new image of AIDS.
“The scientific understanding of infectious diseases, especially virology, has changed dramatically since 1918,” honisbaum said.
But then came the Los Angeles plague in 1924, the parrot fever in 1930, legionnaires’ disease in Philadelphia in 1976, AIDS in 1980, SARS in 2003, ebola haemorrhagic fever in 2013 and the zika outbreak in Brazil.
Summing up the global response to ebola in 2015, who director-general Margaret chan said: “this outbreak…
It was terrifying and unexpected.
Countries around the world, including the world health organization, were slow to respond, and we were caught off guard by what was happening.”
“Why,” the authors ask, “do we do our best to anticipate pandemics and prepare for them, only to be caught off guard?”
“Covid-19” in 2020 has plunged the planet into the same crisis again, and is dragging down the allocation of global health resources.
“Hubris” may be one of the defining keywords.
Generally speaking, when we talk about “pride”, we always associate it with higher civilization, racial superiority, and “pride and prejudice” of government and officials, which are bound to be evident in the outbreak of a pandemic.
Each chapter of the book has concrete examples of how “hubris” and different forms of “hubris” by different groups have affected epidemic prevention, torn societies apart, and devastated national economies.
During the Los Angeles plague in 1924, for example, the local government’s decision to quarantine the affected areas — macy’s street and view gardens — had little to do with infection control, but was motivated by racism and prejudice.
But “the great human plague” poignantly points to a pervasive, and unwelcome, fact: the periodic arrival of great plagues is the price humans pay for their “arrogance” — even that of the disease’s snipers, scientists.

During flu epidemic in 1918, when the western scientific community immersed in bacteriology and vaccine invention, in the joy of the scientists become a hero to deal with epidemic disease laboratory continuous good news coming from the French and German bacteria, scientists filled with pride invincible and move forward, and the mood also affected the social and public psychology.
About a flu pathogen at the time, the father of the scientific community generally adopted Germany bacteriology Koch’s son-in-law platts proposed coli conclusion, however, the United States army flu tests, the scientists found that not all cases can detect platts coli, but nobody dared to challenge the authority of the German scientist, openly questioned the German theoretical paradigm of Koch school created by the bacteria.
Even though scientists realized it was a new flu virus, it still didn’t shake the established bacteriological paradigm of influenza.
In the author’s view, scientists have a responsibility to “guard against intellectual arrogance and guard against any illusions or presumptuousness about the breadth and depth of their knowledge.”
The author points out that in Philadelphia in 1976 legionnaires’ disease challenge the post-war medical progress, hit those who think that advanced industrial society no longer need to worry about old plague ego psychology, “if the legionnaires’ disease is for public health industry’s message is too arrogant, so thoroughly let people understand AIDS, in advanced technological society, although there are vaccines, antibiotics and other medical technology, infectious diseases has not been eliminated, instead of constantly threaten our”.
“We had hoped that modern science would be invincible and solve all our problems,” said Dr. Michael senser, director of the centers for disease control and prevention. “the reality is the opposite of the ideal.”
Indeed, advances in molecular biology have given epidemiologists and public health scientists a better understanding of the ecology and immunology of influenza, an accurate grasp of epidemic models, and a statistical approach to analyzing trends in epidemics.
Although scientists have extracted genetic material from the H1N1 virus of the 1918 pandemic, and have fully explained its pathology and epidemiology, they are still unable to answer the question of why it was young people who had the highest mortality rates during the 1918 pandemic.
Because the virus is contagious for people of all ages, it is a mysterious and enduring scientific mystery.
Similarly, the investigation into the outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in Philadelphia ended in failure, constituting “one of the great mysteries of epidemiology” of the 20th century.
“Influenza pandemics have continued to generate many unexpected events in recent decades, exposing fundamental gaps in scientific knowledge,” the scientists said.
This has so far prevented scientists from determining the determinants and probabilities of influenza outbreaks.
In the wake of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the world health organization (who) announced that a recombination of two H1N1 swine flu viruses could trigger a global influenza pandemic, and launched a preparedness plan.
The who’s predictions led to worldwide panic, but by the time the great human plague was published in English in 2019, the pandemic had not occurred, prompting accusations that the who was “cooking up” flu warnings to help vaccine manufacturers and other interest groups.
“If you look at the last 100 years of pandemics, the only certainty is that there will be new plagues and new pandemics,” hornisbaum said with some concern.
Past experience tells us that the question is not if, but when.
Plagues may not be predictable, but we should know they will strike again.”
On March 12, 2020, the world health organization (who) announced that, in view of the spread of novel coronavirus and its rapidly expanding impact, this outbreak could be characterized as a “pandemic”. The prediction made 10 years ago unfortunately came true under the witness of people all over the world.
Unfortunately, even after 10 years of preparation, we still can’t take it in stride. Panic, hysteria and arrogance continue to affect our lives and minds.

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