What Is Considered A Fever In A 1 Year Old The Black Death Really Is Bubonic Plague

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The Black Death Really Is Bubonic Plague

After extracting DNA from 75 skeletons in mass graves or plague pits, researchers have recently definitively confirmed that the Black Death, which consumed more than 1/3 of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1353, was caused by Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that carries the bubonic plague. Other possible causative agents were suspected, such as viral hemorrhagic fever, but this recently uncovered evidence has sealed the debate.

The plague originated in the 1330s in China, which was the center of world trade at the time and is also estimated to have lost about a third of its population at the time to plague and related famine (as many as 60,000,000 people). Several Italian ships had docked in Sicily while stopping in the Black Sea, which is one of the most important intermediate stations for trade with China. Many of the sailors on board were already dying of the plague, and its terrifying spread over the land led one eyewitness to describe the scene as follows:

“Realizing what a deadly disaster had befallen them, the people quickly drove the Italians out of the city. But the disease persisted, and soon death was everywhere. Fathers abandoned their sick sons. Lawyers refused to come to make wills for the dying. Friars and nuns were left to care for the sick, and Abbots and Convents were soon deserted because they too were destroyed. The bodies were left in empty houses, and there was no one to give them a Christian burial.”

The disease was horrifying not only because of the painful and disfiguring swelling of the lymph nodes (speak from which dysentery got its name) and the red spots that quickly turned black on the skin (the reason the disease was called the Black Death), but the extreme speed with which it seized its victims, turning healthy individuals into wet, crusty corpses in a few per day: the victims “had lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” Around 75 million people lived in Europe at the time, and in five years 25 million had died.

Plague pneumonia was the deadliest form. Anyone could catch it by breathing the victim’s exhaled air. Giovanni Boccaccio described the horrific consequences in “The Decameron”.

“The violence of this disease was such that the sick communicated it to the healthy who came near them, just as fire catches anything dry or oily near it. And it went even further. Talking to or going near the sick brought contagion and ordinary death to the living; and besides, touching clothes or anything else that the sick person had touched or used gave the disease to the person who touched it.”

“One citizen shunned another, scarcely a neighbor worried about others, relatives never or hardly ever visited each other. Moreover, this calamity struck such terror into the hearts of men and women that brother abandoned his brother and uncle his nephew, and sister his brother, and very often the wife his their husbands. Worse still, and almost beyond belief, fathers and mothers refused to see and care for their children, as if they were not theirs.”

The disease was spread by infected fleas hitchhiking on rats, but the rudimentary state of medieval medicine, poor hygiene, religious hysteria and gross superstition led to a search for scapegoats. Jewish communities throughout Europe were destroyed when Jews were accused of poisoning wells or other plots to destroy their Christian neighbors. 60 large and 150 small Jewish communities in Mainz, Cologne and elsewhere, several hundred years old, were completely destroyed and their inhabitants slaughtered.

In Europe, it took 150 years to make up for the losses incurred in a few years. Frequent but less severe outbreaks continued for several hundred more years and kept the fear of this terrible disease in the minds of all who knew it. A healthier and cleaner environment and modern medicine have wrought many miracles, but it has not removed the possibility or fear of another terrible pandemic breaking out in our time with all its associated horrors and consequences.

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