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The AIDS Epidemic Versus The Plague Essay

, Research Paper

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). However, 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. 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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