The Black Plague and Its Impact on Medicine in Medieval Society

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The Black Plague and its Impact on Medicine in Medieval Society The Black Death (also called the "plague" or the "pestilence", the bacteria that causes it is Yersinia Pestis) was a devastating pandemic causing the death of over one-third of Europe's population in its major wave of 1348-1349. Yersinia Pestis had two major strains: the first, the Bubonic form, was carried by fleas on rodents and caused swelling of the lymph nodes, or "buboes", and lesions under the skin, with a fifty-percent mortality rate; the second, the pneumonic form, was airborne after the bacteria had mutated and caused fluids to build up in the lungs and other areas, causing suffocation and a seventy-percent mortality rate. Modern scholars suggest an array of causes for the Black Death. Some cite Malthusian theory by arguing that the disease was a natural result of the overwhelming population increase in the two centuries before the plague struck, a factor which caused the outstripping of the food supply. While the population increased by 300% in these two centuries, the food production stayed relatively the same. As to the origin of the disease, some theorists believe that rodents native to the foothills of the Himalayas had carried the disease for ages, and, after transmission to central Asia via Mongol armies, the disease was then transferred to major port cities in Europe after trade routes were established with the East following the Crusades. The Black Death struck Europe in a time of great despair. "Although a `Great Famine' struck northern Europe between 1315 and 1322, nothing prepared Europeans for the horrendous onslaught of the Black Death" (Aberth, 2). The famine had caused a massive hunger shortage from which Europe had yet to recove... ... middle of paper ... north," he also suggests that movement should be kept to a minimum and gives a list of recommended foods (Aberth, 57). In addition, he suggests that bowel movements must be kept regular and that bleeding is quite possibly ."..the best way to maintain one's health during this calamity" (Aberth, 58). As evidenced in the doctors' prescriptions for how to prevent and/or cure the disease, attempts to combat the Black Death were meek if not completely futile. Because the medical knowledge at the time of the Black Death was based on inaccurate observation and undue credence given to the heavenly bodies and divine will, the plague waged rampantly throughout Europe and was completely undeterred by feeble attempts at solving its medicinal mystery. Work Cited Aberth, John. The Black Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-1350. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2005.

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