Beginnings of the plague appeared very early in the British Isles going as far back as the summer of 1348. From that point on, it never really disappeared. At the time, people thought they could survive by avoiding it. And many did. However, in 1665, it became very clear to those living in London and its surrounding areas that the Black Death was unavoidable. One possible cause for the enormous outbreak that swept through London from 1665 to 1666 was due to the activity of trade ships. It is thought that Dutch ships transporting cotton carried the plague to England from Amsterdam. Various areas of the Netherlands had been affected by a similar disease at that time.
Historically, it was believed that the disease was caused by Yersinia pestis, the bacterium associated with other plague outbreaks before and since the Great Plague of London. This was transmitted through the bites of fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) living on black rats, or through the bite of rats or other rodents. The areas outside London were the first to be affected by the spread of the plague. During the winter of 1664-1665, many contracted the disease and died. The winter that year was cold enough and the plague was contained with ease.
However, with the arrival of spring and summer, which were particularly warm according to records, the plague spread rapidly and on a large scale. It reached its peak in September 1665, when the summer’s heat became unbearable. It was another London misfortune that finally stopped the plague: the Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed the areas of the city most infected. While it eventually ended, the road to its end was long and extremely difficult. While the disease and symptoms are very different from what we’re experiencing with COVID-19, following the story of The Great Plague of London gives us useful perspective in current times.
Preparing for a long-term pandemic
It has become apparent that the coronavirus is no longer able to be contained. At the time of this writing, it has affected 213 Countries and Territories around the world and it’s not showing signs of slowing down soon. It’s picking up steam in the United States, and the federal, state, and local governments are scrambling to support our healthcare system and workers, as well as keep our supply chains intact. We are in this for the long haul, folks. It’s depressing and we’re all going a little stir-crazy, but if we’re prepared, we can better protect ourselves and our families. And, remember, this will eventually pass.
As we experience the effects of Covid-19 globally and in our everyday lives, we are taking lessons from past experiences and modifying intense measures as we go. Governments are currently exploring options that best approach the problem: building ways to control transmission (social distancing, testing, etc.) while making investments in efforts to mitigate the impact (vaccine treatment and increased health care capacity). All options point to a long road ahead estimating months, perhaps even years. That being said, how do we make long-term preparations?
#1 Take quarantine and lockdown measures seriously
At the peak of The Great Plague, the King, Charles II and his Court fled London to Oxford. Families who could afford to leave London did while the poor had no choice but to stay and, as a result, were the most affected.
Despite attempts by authorities to prevent people from leaving London, people did manage to get out. In fact, a trader transporting cotton from London to the Derbyshire region of England, brought the plague there. Sadly, over 70% of the population perished.
London authorities took drastic measures to prevent the disease from spreading further inside the city. Incubation only took four to six days and, when the plague appeared in a household, all members of the family were quarantined in their homes. Chained from the outside, the house bore a painted red cross with the words, “Lord have mercy on us” as a warning to others. At night the corpses were brought out in answer to the cry, “Bring out your dead.” Bodies were brought out, put in a cart, and taken away to the plague pits. The diary of Samuel Pepys vividly recounts the empty streets in London, a result of those fleeing the disease and those doomed to their death in their homes.
By sheltering in place and avoiding unnecessary travel, we do our part in diminishing the spread of the virus--while potentially reducing hospital overcrowding and lowering death rates. This “new normal”--along with vigilant hand washing and avoidance of touching your face-- are long-term practices that help to prevent the spread further. If you still think it’s going to be okay to go on that family trip early this summer, you may want to rethink your trip and plan on staying in place for the next few months. While radical quarantine measures like this aren't our reality with COVID-19--at least not in the U.S.--we are understanding the significance and importance of social distancing and being locked down. At the time of this post, millions of Americans in at least 38 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico have been ordered to stay at home. At first, measuring how effective these measures were in slowing down the virus seemed impossible. But, new evidence shows rapid drops in numbers of fevers across the country (a signal symptom of most coronavirus infections). This indicates that these tight measures may be working in our favor to slow the spread of the virus.
#2 Take precautions
There was great fear around the bubonic plague partly due to not understanding its cause. Some blamed unusual weather, sickness in livestock, and even dogs and cats. To combat the spreading of the disease, there were other beliefs as well. It was commonly thought that holding a posy of flowers to the nose would keep the plague away (recall the kids song, Ring Around the Rosie). To stop infection, smoke was believed to keep the air clean and flaming torches were used day and night. The authorities even urged citizens to consume tobacco to ward off the disease. Unlike 1665 London, today, we’re blessed to have scientists and disease experts working round-the-clock to figure out how this virus works and how it’s passed.
Knowing what we do about the high contagion capability of COVID-19, precautions toward extreme sanitation is key. Not only is it necessary to have cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers available, it is also important to keep necessities such as water and air clean. Maintaining sanitary living conditions and accessing clean drinking water is key to remaining strong and disease-free. Air purification and water filtration systems offer peace of mind when it comes to having clean essentials available in your home. In the poorer parts of London, where it was overcrowded, hygiene was impossible to maintain. There was no sanitation--with trash thrown outside homes and sewage flowing through open drains. The city of London was very dirty, and an ideal habitat for rats. These conditions certainly contributed to the spread of the disease.
Considering the desperate state of affairs during the Great Plague of London, it is amazing that starvation was not also a problem. This was in part because Sir John Lawrence and the Corporation of London paid a commission above normal price for every quarter of corn landed in the Port of London. Villages around London also became a food source for London residents--leaving vegetables in specific market areas and collecting payment after the money had been left in a bucket of water to disinfect the coins.
Stockpiling food in advance is an essential part of preparing to ride out an epidemic long term. To avoid infecting others or getting infected, you want to stock up now. Many American’s have bought a few weeks worth of groceries; however, if the virus continues to spread throughout the U.S., and it becomes more dangerous to leave home to get food and supplies, you want to make sure you have at least 30 days worth of food on hand. Unlike Londoners in 1665, it’s as easy as a click of a button for us to order groceries or non perishable emergency food supplies and store them at home. Do not wait until the situation becomes worse to make sure you have what your family needs in the weeks to come.
#3 Know first aid basics
Medical training during the time of the Black Death varied greatly. There were college graduate physicians and apothecaries who also acted as doctors, and even civilians acting as imposters. Plague doctors walked the streets diagnosing victims, many of them without formal medical training. Despite public health efforts, panic set in, and people were hastily buried in overcrowded pits due to fear of contagion.
Part of our social responsibility in handling the pandemic of COVID-19 is to prevent our health care facilities from being over-run. You can do your part to stop the spread of germs in your home and if you run out to the store by using disposable tissues, antibacterial wipes, latex gloves, face masks, and hand sanitizer. Not only are we being asked to maintain a robust immune system, but to also care for ourselves as best possible when experiencing flu symptoms. For this reason and general preparedness, it’s important to know first aid basics, especially if professional medical treatment is hard to come by--or too dangerous to seek out. Equipped with The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide and Lifeline Deluxe First Aid Kit, you can be at ease knowing you have the information and tools to assist yourself and loved ones.
We are living in a time of great uncertainty and no one knows how long we will need to implement measures needed to end this pandemic. While life-altering, it is crucial that we embrace preparations for the long-term in order to curb and eventually end infection.
By looking back at past experiences with epidemics, we can appreciate the importance of communal effort and look forward to hopeful solutions ahead.
Stay safe and healthy friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply