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How not to stop a plague

Is a plague threatening to bring your civilisation to its knees? For those looking for a way to stop an outbreak of Black Death or venereal disease, be sure to avoid any of the mistakes listed in the antiguide to plague prevention: what not to do.

Don’t destroy the very thing that’s protecting you

One of the most famous plagues in history was the “Black Death” epidemic which swept through Europe multiple times, the worst of which was from 1347 through to 1352, wiping out nearly a third of the population. The disease was spread by rats, so it really, really didn’t help when everyone blamed cats instead and proceeded to try and wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Even in the years leading up to the deadly outbreak, peasants across Europe had been murdering millions of cats due to a commonly-held belief that these sneaky felines were servants of the devil – a view promoted by no less than the Catholic Church. Evil? Well, they were suspiciously independent, noisy at night, and usually owned by lonely peasant women (the type of people most often accused of witchcraft). Millions of women and their cats were burned before the plague even hit, leaving an entire continent open to an invasion of rats. After the Bubonic Plague started wreaking havoc, “witches” and their cats were usually the first to blamed, and even more were put to death.

Don’t get cured with “a hair of the dog that bit you”

Despite the wonders of modern medicine, plenty of plagues still rage through human societies today,  with one of the worst being HIV/AIDS. Just as viruses still exist, so do the superstitions surrounding them. Witch doctors throughout Africa have a number of bunk methods for treating HIV. It’s bad enough when people are getting bogus treatment, but its even worse when the remedy is actually exacerbating the problem.

One such “cure” involves sex with a virgin, which has obviously only helped spread the virus. Some varieties of this myth even promote the idea that the younger the virgin, the more effective the cure. Due to this belief and other factors, child and even infant rape is endemic in a number of African countries.

Witch doctors have also been known to try and cure the illness by cutting the hand of a patient with broken glass as part of a ritual – unfortunately, they use the same shard of glass over and over, thereby spreading HIV further through the mixing of contaminated blood.

Don’t cure one plague by introducing another

Plagues don’t just come in disease form: societies can be ravaged by plagues of animals too. Think a plague of locusts, or the modern case of rabbits decimating Australia. When the Europeans colonised Australia in the 1800s, they brought some rabbits to hunt. With no natural predators, rabbit numbers spiralled out of control, destroying entire ecosystems. The solution? Foxes were introduced to control the population. Unfortunately, there is no natural predator for foxes in Australia, and they’ve reached endemic numbers as well. To make things worse, foxes prefer lambs and chickens over rabbits, and have proved just as much a problem for farmers as the rabbits ever did. Other attempted solutions to the problem include a rabbit-proof fence longer than the Great Wall of China, and the introduction of Myxomatosis, a rabbit virus.

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