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The bubonic plague – also known as the Black Death – is one of the most devastating epidemics that mankind has ever faced. Sweeping through Asia and Europe during the middle part of the 1300’s, it was directly responsible for the deaths of an approximately one third of the population (75 to 200 million people). Although there has never been an outbreak on the same scale as the one that gripped the world during the 1300’s, the bubonic plague is still around today, with an outbreak occurring in late 2013 in a remote village in Madagascar that resulted in the death of 100 people.
The bubonic plague falls under the classification of being a zoontic disease. This means that it is transmitted from animals other than humans to human. Usually found on fleas that tend to infect small rodents, the disease is transmitted normally through direct animal bite, contaminated water supplies, or other unhygienic means. If no treatment is sought during the initial stages of the disease, there is a mortality rate of greater than 66%.
First Recorded Outbreaks
The first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague that was in 541 AD, affecting the Byzantine Empire specifically. The first recorded case was in the port capitol of Constantinople; it didn’t take long before 5,000 people a day were succumbing to the disease. From there, it quickly spread to other parts of the region through trade routes. Modern researchers have placed the number of deaths at close to a quarter of the population in the Eastern Mediterranean. Spreading outward via trade ships ad caravans; this specific strain of the plague would eventually result in the deaths of between 25 million and 100 million people.
Although the eventual downfall of the Empire would not be for many generations later, historians have pointed at the later named “Plaque of Justinian” as the eventual beginning of the end. It tapped the empire in two important ways. First, the disease had a devastating effect on the military might of the Byzantium Empire. Prior to the outbreak of the plague, Emperor Justinian had increased his empires land holdings to include most of the former Roman Empire. However, the spread of the plague laid waste to the ranks of the Byzantine Empires military might, and they soon found themselves having to retreat from territory that they had only recently conquered.
The Black Death
The plague slowly dissipated as it made its way through the population, with the last recorded case happening during the 700s.
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"The Devastating Epidemic of the Bubonic Plague." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Nov 2019
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Bought over from merchant ships bringing goods for Asia, the plague was carried by oriental rat fleas, which lived on the backs of black rats.
First arriving in Italy, it began to spread quickly throughout the rest of mainland Europe. By 1350 most European countries were reporting cases. By the time the plague died out, it is estimated that between 40-60% of all of Europe’s population had been infected and had died.
Although not nearly severe as the outbreak that struck during the 1300s, the plague is still active today and the occasional outbreak can still occur. The most serve recent outbreak is still ongoing and located on the island nation of Madagascar. First reported in 2013, the majority of the cases have been centralized in the nations prisons, the initial count showed over 250 being infected in a short amount of time, with close to 100 people later succumbing to the disease. With Madagascar’s already poor infrastructure and health care system, world leaders are rushing to contain what could potentially lead to another large-scale epidemic.