Hannah Boucher | Staff Columnist
Disease has been a constant threat to human civilization, whether it be the bubonic plague or a common cold. In a world where we share everything, pathogens are no exception. Germs are everywhere — bathrooms, airplanes, cell phones, even in the “sterilized” doctor’s office. However, with the use of antibiotics, vaccines, hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and bleach, we should be safe, right?
According to a study conducted by the University of Washington in 2014, the overall mortality rate from contagious diseases decreased from the year 1980 in the U.S. The data, while not the most recent, can be assumed to represent a trend due to the continuous development of innovative ways to combat viruses and bacteria. Although health care is not identical in every developed nation, the global collaboration of researchers means they are all in a similar spot in terms of medicinal development.
This does not include nations that lack the resources to improve their health care systems for their civilians. As mortality rates continue to fall in countries such as the United States, developing nations see stagnant or increasing rates in disease fatality.
This blindspot in global healthcare has opened doors for pandemics to occur. For about 300 years, influenza pandemics have taken the lives of over 100 million individuals.The most recent flu pandemic in 2009, caused the deaths of an estimated 450,000 people alone.
Despite the constant fear of a global outbreak, many refuse to protect themselves against viruses as best they can. A key example of this is the 2019 measles outbreak. A disease that should no longer be a concern made a comeback due to misconceptions about vaccinations. Many believe that because a disease is no longer an issue that it has disappeared.
Viruses such as polio and the measles have not fallen off the face of the earth, rather they have become less common due to the development of vaccinations. Some parents have also bought into the myth that vaccinations cause health complications, leading to them not vaccinating their kids.
The number of people misinformed on the importance of vaccinations is alarming. Individuals who are unable to receive vaccinations are put at risk of infection. Quarantining those who become infected may be a possibility, but our globalized society puts the whole world at risk for the spread of deadly disease first. Symptoms may not appear until days after becoming infected, remaining dormant while the disease continues to spread from person to person. A simple cough or sneeze, an exchange of fluids or a coming into contact with a contaminated surface is all it takes to share germs. Buses, trains, airplanes — any form of transportation can leave a person vulnerable to infection.
The advancements made that have led to a globalized world have also led to an increase in our carbon footprint. As the Earth’s climate continues to change, environments become breeding grounds for different bacteria and viruses. Still-water ecosystems are home to parasites such as mosquitoes, which are carriers for many different pathogens.
In the Caribbean, there was an outbreak of Dengue Fever this past year. Due to the rise in temperatures, the mosquito population has increased. This, in turn, increased the likelihood of becoming infected. This most recent outbreak was not easy to contain, with around 3 million Americans contracting the disease. As global warming continues to progress, so does the spread of diseases in warmer areas.
Another disturbing development in the world of epidemiology is the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. While many refuse to be vaccinated, it is quite common for antibiotics to be prescribed. However, most people do not finish their dose of antibiotics and just stop taking their medicine when their symptoms dissipate. The combination of overusing antibiotics and not completing the full dosage prescribed has allowed some bacteria to become resistant to medicine that is supposed to kill it.
There are more pathogens than there are humans on the planet. We are greatly outnumbered by microbes that can easily kill millions of people. Global outbreaks are a real possibility under current conditions. People have become ignorant to the risk of disease because there is a misconception that our technological advancements make us invincible. We are only as healthy as the environment we surround ourselves in.