The Black Death

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The Black Death Black Death, epidemic of plague which ravaged Europe in the mid-14th century. Various forms of plague were known in the civilized world since ancient times. Greek and Roman historians described outbreaks of an epidemic disease which were sudden and deadly: at Constantinople in the 6th century AD, for example, as much as half the population may have been killed. The outbreak which reached Europe from China in 1347, and spread rapidly and with disastrous results to most countries, has been given the name the Black Death, though contemporaries did not use this term. Epidemiology of the Black Death The plague bacillus affects wild rodents and their parasites, especially the black rat and its flea, Xenopsylla cheopis. A diseased rat, carrying the bacillae, may infect the flea which feeds on its blood, and in certain conditions the flea can carry the disease to human beings. It is thought by modern historians that this was the most common cause of the spread of the infection. There are two main forms of plague, of varying intensity. The more important is bubonic plague, which affects the lymph glands and leads to swellings (boils or "buboes") in the throat, underarm or, most commonly, in the groin. This type was very familiar to Europeans in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, and for those affected mortality was anywhere up to 75 per cent (even greater in some regions): most died within a week of catching the disease. It flourished in the summer months, usually reaching a peak in September. In London and other big Eu... ... middle of paper ... ...hereafter escaped major epidemics, although Marseille in 1720 was an exception. It did remain, however, in the Middle East and Asia, and precautions were taken to stop it spreading. The frontier between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire was to remain a cordon sanitaire, actively manned whenever there was an outbreak of the disease further east. The cause of the decline in the incidence of plague remains mysterious. It may have been associated with the brown rat superseding the black, and proving a lesser source of infected fleas; the improvement of housing and living conditions; or the development of immunity in humans, after centuries of infection. Medical advances, so important in the elimination of other fatal diseases in the modern world, seem in the case of plague to have had little to do with it.

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