Health Science

The Zika Virus Isn’t the First Time the World Has Panicked Over Disease


Since way back when The Black Death was a thing (which we’re pretty sure you don’t actually remember…), as humans we have always been panicking about the next health epidemic that is coming to claim us all. Currently, that disease is the Zika Virus, transmitted by mosquitoes and causing symptoms including rashes, headaches, muscle pain and generally feeling pretty darn rubbish. These last for up to a week without any treatment – except, you know, protecting people against being bitten in the first place. It’s no surprise that this awful disease is currently pretty rife in places such as Africa, the Americas and Asia.

Black Death

The difference between The Black Death and the Zika Virus, among others, is that The Black Death did actually kill a huge number of people (up to 200 million it is estimated!) and as social media wasn’t a thing back then, the hysteria wasn’t quite as concentrated as it is now.

Maybe it’s all the zombie films we watch, or perhaps it’s just the good ol’ media whipping up a frenzy, either way, we are always convinced that something is coming to wipe us all out. We spend weeks worrying that it’s “getting closer”, and glaring daggers at everyone who sneezes on the bus (which, let’s face it, is gross so that’s justified either way!) until it slowly fades away without us even realising.

Swine Flu

Example? Swine Flu. According to the, admittedly very few, people that I know suffered with the pig flu, if you had it, you’d know about it. That didn’t stop every person with a slight sniffle assuming the worst for several weeks before it eventually died down. In fact, Swine Flu is still circulating over flu season, it’s just that we are distracted by other diseases now. This illness never truly left, we’ve just found other – scarier – things to concentrate our time and effort on.


Such as Ebola. Ah, Ebola. Doctors’ offices were filled with signs asking you not to touch anyone, or anything, if you had recently returned from West Africa. BBC News was constantly running “Breaking News” updates about suspected cases that were slowly moving further towards Europe and we were all worried that we may have it.

We didn’t. You see, Ebola was a serious problem, but it was extremely unlikely there would be an epidemic of it in the UK. That didn’t stop the papers from making us sure we had it every single day.

Mad Cow Disease

Mad Cow Disease was also a biggy, with pretty awful symptoms (including depression, loss of coordination and later dementia) – and a real fear that our beloved Beef would cause us all to die within a year. Not cool. Again, it was just another case of being scared by the media.

Foot and Mouth

If you’re a 90’s child, you might remember the great (Hand,) Foot and Mouth outbreak. Although still very much around today, this was when it caused a mass panic and poor farmers had to get rid of a whole load of infected livestock.

Of course, this is not to say that none of these diseases claimed lives and wreaked havoc. Those conspiracy theorists among you may believe that each health epidemic is simply a “Government cover up” for something bigger, whilst others may just believe that with increased freedom of travel, these diseases are bound to be passed on between countries more regularly.

We can only hope that each disease, including the Zika, does indeed fizzle out before causing too much destruction, and that death on the scale of The Black Death never happen again.

About the author

Rebecca Walton

Rebecca has always been fascinated with the business and tech world, having grown up with parents in the industry. She has a real passion for science - particularly space and the unknown realms that surround the planet! Rebecca has been writing for different publications for nearly 6 years and is now an editor at Pangaea Express.