There is a lot more good news than you think

Why is there so much bad news? The reason is that bad news happens fast. Good things tend to be slow. Why is there no smallpox in the news? Because it has been eradicated, the last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in 1977, even then the WHO did not declare it extinct until 1980. Apart from the odd isolated outbreak linked to medical research which is quickly dealt with there has been no news about smallpox. Good news.

A child with smallpox in Bangladesh, taken in 1977
Free image from Wikimedia commons

It’s the same with poliomyelitis. There were an estimated 350,000 polio cases a year in 1988 when the WHO set a goal to eradicate the disease by 2000. By 2018 there were 33 naturally occurring cases, plus a further 114 linked to the vaccine. Do not let the antivax people fool you, vaccines save far more lives than they lives, even live vaccines such as polio. The status of polio is Global Eradication Underway. Good news.

There is a lot of talk in the UK by people unable to take their holidays due to Covid-19. 100 years ago there were no foreign holidays, even for rich people. Only the super rich took holidays abroad. 200 years ago British people did not even take holidays in other places, it was only the railway boom in the 1840s that made the seaside holiday possible. It’s good to escape the humdrum and mundane existence of work, eat, sleep, repeat. But there is an environmental cost to air travel, do you really need to fly long haul on personal grounds or more than once a year? Holidays make life better. Good news.

Technical improvements have improved our lives. Radio has only been around since 1895, Then we have TV and the internet. Things have improved.

There is even good news about pandemics, though it may not feel like it when travel and entertainment are restricted and not being lifted as soon as you would like. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic (H1N1) killed millions, but now it is controlled withe the old and vulnerable being vaccinated. If you have caught flu in the last few years it is likely to be H1N1 or a variant. There is a timeline of the last 100+ years:

  • 1918 Spanish Flu H1N1, Origin USA.
  • 1957 Asian Flu H2D2, Origin the Far East. Detection of flu had improved since 1918 and vaccine production started that same year. There was a second wave in 1958.
  • 1968 Hong Kong Flu H3N2. The mildest pandemic of the 20th century. Returned in 1970 and 1972.
  • 1978 Swine flu threat, H1N1, Origin USA. Mass vaccinations meant it never escaped the Fort Dix area.
  • 1979 Russian Flu threat H1N1, Most people over 23 had natural immunity from the 1918 outbreak until 1957 H2N2 outbreak. Mostly under 23s were affected and relatively few deaths.
  • 1997 and 1999 the H5N1 and H9N2 Avian Flu strains were passed from birds to humans and not from human to human, due to the ability of vuruses to change these are being monitored.

I have included the history of flu outbreaks because it shows the ability of medical science to improve over time. The current Covid-19 pandemic is related to SARS and MERS outbreaks of 2003 and 2012: The Covid -19 pathogen is called SARS-CoV-2. Because work was already being done on a vaccine for SARS/MERS, AstraZeneca were able to use that research and develop a Covid-19 vaccine in a very short time.

There will always be new viruses. But that we are able to deal with them much quicker than we could in the past, and that it will be even quicker in the future. Things may be looking bleak, with an anticipated loosening of lockdown restrictions in the UK being postponed for a further four weeks, but when you see how our capability to control the spread has increased over the last century you can see how modern medical science is good news.

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