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Introduction And Background To The Black Death

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Published: Mon, 01 May 2017

Have you ever heard of “The Black Death”? Do you know what the Black Death is all about? The Black Death is an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague that mainly affects rodents but can be transmitted to people through fleas occurred in China in the early 1330s (“The Black Death: Bubonic Plague”, 2011). Traditionally, most scholars believed that the disease that struck Europe was “Plague” which is best known as the bubonic plague for the “buboes” (lumps) that forms on the victims’ bodies and it is also known to be in other forms which is pneumonic and septicemic forms (Snelly, 2012).

It first hit London in September 1348 (Ibeji, 2011). Early during the New Year, it then spread into East Anglia all along the coast. By spring 1349, it hit Wales and the Midlands (Ibeji, 2011). By late summer, it made the leap across the Irish Sea and expanded to the north (Ibeji, 2011). The plague then spread into Scotland by 1350 (Ibeji, 2011).

There are three types of the plague or the Black Death that kills the infected people (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). The first one is the Bubonic Plague which is by the bacillus yersinia pestis carried by fleas and is transmitted normally by the rodents (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). The bacillus is extremely fatal (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). After being infected with just three bacilli the laboratory mice died and the fleas can disgorge up to 24,000 in one bite (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). In recent years other rodents not only rats have transmitted the disease in advanced Western countries, such as the USA (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). The plague is transmitted by this rodent by the flea (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). It travels through the lymph system causing the lymph glands to swell the lymph nodes and discolor and turn a black color (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). Hence the name Black Death was given. The armpits and the groin are the areas that are normally affected (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009).

The second type is the Septicemic Plague. This is in fact the same disease but when infected the patient gets the bacilli in the bloodstream instead of the lymph system (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). it is nearly always fatal causing massive damage to the blood and the circulation system when this occurs (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). The part of the body, normally the extremities, loses blood supply, becomes gangrenous and goes black (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). It can spread through contact with open sores (Snell, 2012).

The third type which is the last type of the plague or the Black Death is Pneumonic Plague. In this type of plague it is caught by breathing the disease from a contaminated animal or human (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). It damages the lungs rapidly (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). It is the most infectious type from all of the three (National Geographic Society, 2012). It is an advanced stage of bubonic plague (National Geographic Society, 2012). It could spread with just a sneeze and jump from a person to another person in a terrifying speed (Snell, 2012).

The disease spread widely and quickly. In the Early stages, the fleas bit the rats and then passed it on the contaminated blood to human bite victims (Svendsen, 1997). The sickness was then passed from person to person in later stages (Svendsen, 1997). The victims of the Bubonic plague had very little chance of survival (Svendsen, 1997). The afflicted had symptoms that were very uncommon (Svendsen, 1997). The main symptoms were a swelling of the lymph glands of the groin or armpits, filling with pus which then turns black. The victims also had fever along with coughing up blood (Svendsen, 1997). The disease also causes spots on the skin that are red at first and then turns black (Svendsen, 1997).

People who survived the Black Death era generally suffered a communal crisis of faith (Edmonds, 2012). People turned to the church for an answer to the plague, but the church could not offer any help (Edmonds, 2012). People with the highest rate of contact with the diseased and the highest rates of fatalities were the priests and doctors (Edmonds, 2012). Other than that, greater value was placed on labor due to the effects of this disease (“Black Death”, n.d). To get a much more less labor-intensive, the farming land was given over to pasturing and this led to a boost in the woolen and cloth industry (“Black Death”, n.d). The peasants started to move out from the country and to the towns (“Black Death”, n.d).

Then the Jews were blamed for this horrifying disease. The Jews whose religion dictated a bit cleaner lifestyle so there were less incidence of rats, fleas, and plague among them but they were blamed to poisoned the wells or made a pact with the devil to cause the Black Death (Butler, 2007). The Jews were massacred or burned in their own synagogues (Butler, 2007). By 1350, few Jews remained in those areas (Butler, 2007).

The people were fighting among themselves and out of fear, people boarded themselves in their houses and locked themselves in but the death found them too (Svendsen, 1997). There were groups of people that wandered the county side whipping themselves in self-mortification (Svendsen, 1997). On the other side they ate, drank, and be merry in what could have been their last moments to live. Some were questioning the very existence of God (Svedsen, 1997). The peasant labor force survivors were able to negotiate with land owners and were able to lease land to improve their income and social standing as the peasant labor force were a total wipe out (Svedsen,1997). The peasantry lost in other ways like the frequent crop failures and famine (Svedsen, 1997). A violent revolt was sparked causing hundreds of noblemen to be killed before it was put down (Svedsen, 1997). An estimated 25 million people were dead because of the “Black Death” in five short years (Svedsen, 1997).

People these days think that the Black Death is a disease from the past and will not affect us humans from this generation but unfortunately till today this disease still exists. The Plague still exists in various parts of the world (National Geographic Society, 2012).Fortunately it does not harm people as bad as how it was before since we have treatments and better defence systems build against the Black Death. About 10 to 20 people contract the Black Death each year in USA (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). Hygiene is our main protection system against this disease (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). The Public Health organizations and the modern sewage systems that is build keeps this plague to a minimum (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009).

In the case of the first type of plague, Bubonic Plague, modern antibiotics have a good chance of combating the disease but there is still a high mortality rate unless it is treated earlier (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). The Bubonic Plague has a 40-60% mortality rate in untreated cases a and1-15% mortality rate in treated cases (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). Whereas in the Septicemic plague, it has 100% mortality in untreated cases and 40% mortality rate in treated cases (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). Lastly, the Pneumonic Plague results in nearly a 100% mortality rate (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). Even with today’s medical knowledge, if the disease is not treated within the first 24 hours of infection it can be really harmful for the infected person (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009).

Other than that, this days the disease is controlled more efficiently compared to before. This can be seen when an occasional case arises (normally of the Bubonic variety), the Health Authorities will isolate the patient, trace their movements and destroy the rodent population responsible for the outbreak (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). In 1932, there was finally an effective treatment found to cure the plague which is using the sulphonamide drugs (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009). There is another treatment that can be used which is the vaccine, but because it takes several weeks to become effective, it would be of little use during an epidemic (“The Modern Day Black Death & Bubonic Plague”, 2009).

More than 2,100 human cases and 180 deaths were recorded in 2003 where nearly all of them were in Africa (National Geographic Society, 2012). In 2006, another serious outbreak was reported whereby at least 50 people died which happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, (National Geographic Society, 2012). In recent years, there are a few countries that reported and confirmed human plague cases (National Geographic Society, 2012). Among the other countries were the United States, China, India, Vietnam, and Mongolia (National Geographic Society, 2012).

The correct antibiotics, good sanitation and pest control help prevent plague outbreaks (National Geographic Society, 2012). They survived if they were given the antibiotics in time before they got worse (National Geographic Society, 2012). Since the plague needed crowd, dirty and rat-infested conditions to really get going, so the treatment and hygienic environment were strictly enforced (National Geographic Society, 2012). There were fears that these plague bacteria if released in aerosol form could possibly be used for a bioterror attack (National Geographic Society, 2012).


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