Saturday 11 July 2009

Swine flu worsens + the real "Great Fire"

Since my last blog on Monday, swine flu has taken quite a turn for the worse in the UK. Then there were 4 deaths, now there have been 15 – meaning the death rate may be around one in 500 rather than the 1 in 1,875 we were talking about five days ago. We have also had the first death of someone without any other underlying medical problems.

The government is still stressing that for the vast majority of people, it will be a mild infection from which they soon make a complete recovery, but if they are right that the number of new cases may reach 100,000 a day by the end of next month, plainly many more people will die.

One of the disturbing things about the 1918 pandemic was how it appeared in the spring as a relatively mild illness, but by the autumn it had become much more lethal. Of course, today we have weapons that doctors lacked 90 years ago, like anti-viral drugs and perhaps soon a vaccine, but the ending of the swine flu story is one that we do not yet know.

On this day….797 years ago (or perhaps 796 – historians cannot agree), London suffered what may have been its deadliest ever peacetime fire. This “Great Fire” broke out to the south of the Thames in Southwark, and spread quickly. Crowds had poured onto London Bridge – some to try to rescue people from its buildings, others just to watch – when the flames leapfrogged them, and set buildings on the north bank ablaze, trapping them.

Some estimates put the number of people killed at an astonishing 3,000. That is hard to accept, but this fire certainly killed many more than the “Great Fire” of 1666, though that devastated a much bigger area. To learn more, see The Disastrous History of London.

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