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Pandemics and conspiracy theories: Part I

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However current and unique the strange days of now feels to us, communicable diseases, plagues, pandemics have raged the earth since the beginning of time. Interestingly, world crisis and theories that include secret plans by groups to do something unlawful or harmful, have a coexistence historically as they do now.

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Communicable diseases existed during humankind’s hunter-gatherer days, but the shift to agrarian life 10,000 years ago created communities that made epidemics more possible. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox and others first appeared during this period.

In 1350, a plague called “black death” took one third of the entire world’s population. 1817 was the first of seven cholera pandemics over the next 150 years, this wave of the small intestine infection originated in Russia, where one million people died. Spreading through feces-infected water and food, the bacterium was passed along to British soldiers who brought it to India where millions more died. The reach of the British Empire and its navy spread cholera to Spain, Africa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Italy, Germany and America, where it killed 150,000 people.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history, caused by an H1N1 virus. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.

Fast forward a century or two, where life has changed drastically with indoor plumbing, sanitary practices, vaccines and highly educated researchers and scientists, and yet the earth is still trying to understand the epidemiology of viruses, they contagion factor and what we can do to prepare.

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In March 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is believed to have possibly started with bats, spread to cats and then to humans and spread to 26 other countries. SARS is characterized by respiratory problems, dry cough, fever and head and body aches and is spread through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. Sound familiar? Quarantine efforts proved effective and by July, the virus was contained and hasn’t reappeared since. SARS was seen by global health professionals as a wake-up call to improve outbreak responses, and lessons from the pandemic were used to keep diseases like H1N1, Ebola and Zika under control. But many feared that the world was still not prepared enough.

In the spring of 2009, a novel influenza A (H1N1) virus emerged. It was detected first in the United States and spread quickly across the United States and the world.

Ten years later, work continues to better understand influenza, prevent disease, and prepare for the next possible pandemic.

March of 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the forested rural region of southeastern Guinea. The identification of these early cases marked the beginning of the West Africa Ebola epidemic, the largest in history. In August of 2014, WHO declared the deteriorating situation in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is designated only for events with a risk of potential international spread or that require a coordinated international response. Over the duration of the epidemic, EVD spread to seven more countries: Italy, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Later secondary infection, mainly in a healthcare setting, occurred in Italy, Mali, Nigeria, and the United States.

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CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) trained 24,655 healthcare workers in West Africa on infection prevention and control practices, according to the International Infection Control Team. In the United States, more than 6,500 people were trained during live training events throughout the response to prepare for a pandemic.

The response to pandemics has been studied, researched and practiced,showing what works and what doesn’t. Social distancing, for instance is not a new way that “Big Brother” or evil governments are inflicting upon us, to control us. During the 1918 pandemic that cost the world 50 million lives, since there was no vaccine for the virus and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections, control efforts were largely limited to social distancing and quarantines, which were applied unevenly.

Researchers found that during the 1918 pandemic, cities that implemented social distancing in a timely and comprehensive manner and sustained those rules suffered the least.

St. Louis, for example, implemented a relatively early, layered strategy that included school closures and the cancellation of public gatherings. It sustained those interventions for about 10 weeks and did not experience nearly as harmful an outbreak as 36 other communities.

Conversely, Philadelphia held a massive Liberty Bond Parade to bolster the World War I effort. That led to a spike of thousands of flu cases within days. In Atlanta, the mayor sided with the business community and ended closures after three weeks to boost the economy, despite objections from the board of health and the epidemic raged there.

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More people died during the 1918 flu pandemic than in all of WWI, with the majority of deaths occurring during the deadly second wave of the influenza outbreak, believed to be from the cities that lifted social distancing measures too fast and too soon. In general, places that disregarded social distancing rules, saw more cases.

Dr. Fauci, a 79-year-old American physician and immunologist has been in this virology business for 50 years with 35 years as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and this is not his first pandemic. He has turned down several offers to lead his agency’s parent, the NIH, and has been at the forefront of US efforts to contend with viral diseases like HIV, SARS, the 2009 swine flu pandemic, MERS, Ebola and now COVID-19.

There have been conspiracy theories that he is corrupt, that he is a puppet for Big Brother or that he is co-conspiring to inflate death toll numbers to create fear and control and to undermine President Trump and the USA economy.

As the advisor to every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan, he’s been working for decades with both Republican and Democratic governments, assisting the health and welfare of humans and researching to avoid our current reality. He addresses the theories of inflated death numbers, lab manmade virus’s and other conspiracy theories by stating calmly and simply in interviews (as if he has had to do this many times before) the following: “There was a study recently (available to the public) where a group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists…which (the virus) is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.” ““There is absolutely no evidence that (inflated death statistics) is the case at all.” “I think it falls under the category of something that’s very unfortunate – these conspiracy theories that we hear about. Any time we have a crisis of any sort there is always this popping up of conspiracy theories.”

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Whether you believe or don’t believe the theories out there, he is right. Historically, crisis creates chaos in the mind and theories of conspiracy.

When the 1918 flu pandemic hit the Americas, it was blamed on German submarines spreading the virus. During the 1630 plague in Milan, the combination of folk superstitions and widespread anxiety led to the trial, torture and execution of two citizens falsely accused of spreading the pestilence.

14th century France, Christians believed Jewish people, acting on behalf of the Muslim prince of Grenada, had bribed the lepers to contaminate public fountains and wells in order to kill the Christians. Clearly, contemporary tales of viral bioweapons build upon a very old theme.

During the crisis of pandemics, people like a fall guy.

Like conspiracy theories, pandemics are about an invisible and powerful enemy hiding among us. Like pandemics, conspiracy theories are contagious or, as we say today, “viral”. Pandemics have always been surrounded by a sense of impending apocalypse creating a fear and emotional trauma difficult to process. Sometimes allowing the mind travels into deep rabbit holes of bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical information, which can be difficult to extricate oneself from.

How can we mindfully take care of ourselves during such a time?

1. If you are struggling emotionally, talk to some one. This is an emotionally traumatic time for many and the distractions of every day life that we normally have, aren’t there. There are many online trained therapists such as

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2. Stay open to theories and ideas but be safe. I don’t think everything is as it always seems and I have been down my own rabbit holes at times. But it seems to me right now everyone is an armchair politician or a scientific expert from behind their screens. I suggest to follow the advice of educated experts and what history has shown us as history that is forgotten has a tendency to repeat itself.

“When fear pushes us in a more restrictive, resistant and painful state, then what do you need to do in order to get to a state of calm trust?” – Kara Steyaert, Mindset and Behavioral Coach.

3. There is freedom in being responsible to ourselves. What do you need to do to feel calm? Turn off the news. Get off the internet. Do something that calms you. Sit in your yard. Go for a walk. Take a bubble bath. Dance around your living room. Do an exercise or yoga class online. What helps you get out of fear and into calm?

4. Stay present. When we get ahead of ourselves, especially during crisis, we can take a nose dive into catastrophic thinking of ruminating about irrational, worst-case outcomes. Needless to say, it can increase anxiety and prevent people from taking action in a situation where action is required. This can be especially true in a crisis situation. Stay in the present moment reality. Stay safe. Do things that make you feel good. Observe how you are feeling and take action as necessary.

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