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The Black Plague The Deadly Plague History Essay

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The Black Plague the Black Plague was one of the worst and deadliest diseases known to man in the history of the world. The Plague originated in Italy and quickly spread throughout Europe killing more than one hundred thirty seven million people. Early treatments for the Plague were often bizarre but eventually came in a vaccine and through isolation. The symptoms of the Black Plague were swellings called buboes and dried blood under the skin that appeared black. The Black Plague changed the world in several different ways. It resulted in medical advances and architectural setbacks. In the 1300's one of the most fearful and deadliest diseases known to humans erupted somewhere in Central Asia; the Black Plague. It came to England in 1348 and for over three centuries the Black Plague remained a continual fear in the everyday life of citizens in Europe.

The Plague struck first along the northern edge of the Black Sea in 1348, where it killed and estimated eighty eight thousand people in less than three months. The Plague reached southern England in the late summer of 1348 and swept northward through the following year. The Black Plague completed it's journey and died out by the end of 1351. Although the people of Medieval Europe did not know the direct cause of the Plague, they believed without doubt that God was responsible, judging human behavior and ready to punish the wicked. They concluded that this Black Plague was punishment from an angry God (Corzine 27-31). The Black Plague had several different names. Bubonic Plague received its name because of the painful swellings it produced called buboes. The Black Death is another name which was given to the Plague because of the appearance of black blood beneath the skin. This disease became associated with the term plague because of the widespread fatalities that it caused throughout history (Platt 10-11). The people of the fourteenth century were uneducated and susceptible to superstitions. Some of the early treatments for the plague were the wearing of excrement and bathing in human urine. Other precautions were the use of leeches and the placing of dead animals in infested homes (Zeigler 35).

Today he Bubonic Plague has a vaccine that lasts for about six months. It is not available in the United States yet. A new vaccine is being worked on and could be licensed later this year. Travelers to plague infested areas should take a special antibiotic. The most effective way to prevent plague is better sanitation. As plagues occurred regularly after the 1350's, preventative measures began to grow. Plague patients were placed in pesthouses, isolated from the general population. Ships coming in from areas where plague had broken out were forced to stay out of the port for forty days. This stopped plague infested individuals from bringing the plague ashore, and if the plague was present on the ship, it would die out during the forty day quarantine. Doctors wore protective gear to prevent themselves from being infected (Nardor 53). Among the most vivid accounts of the Black Plague's origins and symptoms are those of its earliest survivors. The early symptoms of the plague include: shivering, headache, vomiting, intolerance to light, pain in the back and limbs, and a white coating on the tongue. The more vivid symptom in men and women was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin and armpit area. These swellings, called buboes, were very painful swollen lymph nodes. From the two areas mentioned, the deadly swellings would begin to spread and within a short period of time they would appear at random all over the body. These swellings, to anyone unfortunate enough to contract them, were definite signs that they would soon die (Bunson 93). Another common symptom of the Black Plague is the appearance of black blood under the skin after death. Severe hemorrhage takes place under the skin after death causing the body to look black. This is where the plague received one of its many names, The Black Death (Platt 101).

To this day, there is a popular nursery rhyme that arose from the plague. Ring around the rosy, Pocket full of poseys, Ashes, ashes, We all fall down. Ring around the rosy refers to the rosary beads that people used to pray to protect themselves from the disease. The smell of death was so strong, that people would carry flowers (poseys) in their pockets to help hide the stench. Ashes, ashes is a reference to the funeral pyres that were used to burn the infected bodies, and we all fall down is a direct reference to all the deaths. There are two ways of transmitting the Black Plague. An infected flea from a rodent who in turn transmits the disease to humans is one way. Another way is inhaling the germ that has been coughed out by a human or animal plague victim (Gregg 109). The plague's death toll was one hundred thirty seven million victims, and at its worst it killed two million people a year. Traders from the Italian city of Genoa carried the plague to their homeland and in the next few years it spread with alarming speed across Europe. In the first complete week of July it claimed seven hundred twenty five lives; in the second week, one thousand eighty nine lives; the third week, one thousand eight hundred forty three victims; and two thousand ten lives were lost in the fourth week. The immediate impact of the Black Death was the loss of one third to one half of the population of Europe in about four years (Gregg 126).

The decrease in population had a lasting effect on the commercial lives of Europeans. Always the first casualty of every recession is the building industry, and the building in Medieval England would never again be as extravagant as it was in the half century before the Black Plague. The loss of common laborers contributed to the chaos. It is said that the severe labor shortage that continued for over a century after the plague contributed largely to the loss of buildings. The Plague not only killed, but also stimulated people's desire to go on pilgrimages, therefore there was no-one to maintain the city buildings (Platt 170-171). Many of Europe's most important scholars and thinkers, as well as doctors died during the plague. Medieval medicine failed in the face of the Black Plague. This massive failure marked the beginning of the professionalization of medicine, one of the most far reaching consequences of the Black Plague (Platt 177).


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