The Bubonic Plague: The Black Death

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The Black Plague

"No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal-the redness and horror of blood." (Edgar Allen Poe The Masque of the Red Death.)

Many thought the Black Plague was a curse from God; punishment for the sins the infected had committed. Those that survived were the chosen people, the ones who abided by the laws of the Church. Scientists know now that the devastating disease was not a result of sins or spiritual inadequacy, but the terrible illness was caused by a strain of bacteria called Yersinia pestis. The bacteria were carried by fleas on rats, which were quite abundant in Medieval towns due to unsanitary conditions and overpopulation. The fleas would bite the rats and become infected with the diseased blood. The fleas would then jump from the rats onto people, thus infecting the host. Because the plague was spread easily, through sneezing and coughing as well as the fleas, the infection spread like wildfire. By the end of the 1300s over one third of the populations of Europe, Asia and Africa were completely annihilated. The Black Death was by far the most deadly disease ever known to man. It spread and killed with such a virulence that the course of human history was forever changed.

Little known to the average person, three forms of the Black Death existed. All were caused by the same bacteria, but they each were comprised of very different symptoms. The three forms, though not equally as deadly, viciously killed millions of people during the Middle Ages.

The most common and well-known strain of the Black Death was the bubonic plague. Victims were subject to enlarged and inflamed lymph nodes, a characteristic known as bubo, thus the reason for receiving the name the bubonic plague. The lymph nodes would swell to enormous capacities until they burst. Other symptoms included headaches, nausea, joint aches, a high fever and vomiting. Symptoms usually took about a week to appear and the mortality rate was around 30-75%.

The second form of the Black Death was the pneumonic plague. It was the next most commonly seen form of the illness, although it was not as prevalent as the bubonic plague. Many of the victims died before they could infect others. This form of the plague attacked the lungs. Slimy mucus tinted with blood was spewed from the mouth and as the disease progressed the sputum became free flowing and bright red.

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