Epidemics that end with a bang

Cohn, S. K. (2022) Epidemics that end with a bang. Centaurus, 64(1), pp. 207-216. (doi: 10.1484/J.CNT.5.128785)

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To answer how epidemics end, one must ask two intersecting but separate questions: first, how particular waves of epidemics end, whether of yellow fever, cholera, plague; and second, how epidemic diseases become eradicated-either through scientific intervention, as with smallpox in the 1970s, or simply by disappearing for reasons that remain mysterious, as with the Second Plague Pandemic from ca. 1347. This article challenges two general notions on how epidemics end. First, individual waves of plagues in European municipalities or regional states did not just fade into the sunset. By the late 16th century, their ends were celebrated with artistic displays, musical and poetic performances, ex-voto gifts, and bangs ranging from tambourines to military salutes. Second, the five-century Second Pandemic of plague-that is, the disease-did not end with declarations or scripted performances, but with another sort of bang. Instead of the usual assumption that epidemic diseases decline gradually over time, progressively inflicting lighter loads of virulence and mortality, the last significant plague outbreaks in most regions in Europe returned to heights of mortality not seen since the Black Death of 1347-1351. Finally, this article adds an obvious but rarely mentioned variable for understanding epidemic endings. Before widespread vaccination, the characteristics of these disappearances depended on the type of disease.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cohn, Professor Samuel
Authors: Cohn, S. K.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Centaurus
Publisher:Brepols Publishers
ISSN (Online):1600-0498
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022, The Author(s)
First Published:First published in Centaurus 64(1):207-216
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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