In 2014, Italy auctioned off Poveglia, one of its islands near Venice, for about $700,000 in order to help pay off some of the country’s national debt and conform to the European Union’s budgeting guidelines (Landini & Trogni, 2014). To most people, the thought of an Italian island near Venice may evoke charm, romance, and exoticness. Unfortunately, Poveglia is not that island. With its sordid past, Poveglia has been a deserted island for over 40 years – with locals and tourists both being barred from even visiting (Poveglia Island, n.d.). It has had an enduring reputation for being haunted– one noteworthy reason being the Black Death that devastated much of southern Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries (Stampler, 2014). As a response to the Black Death epidemic, the Italian government turned Poveglia into a lazaretto, a quarantine station to where people were banished for the rest of their lives if they were ill or simply exhibited symptoms (Swancer, 2015). With the increasing number of plague-infected people being sent away to Poveglia, the island became known for its walking dead and burial pits of decomposing bodies (Swancer, 2015).
The Black Death is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis (Sutyak, n.d.). Y. pestis is considered to be one of the most historically influential microbes ever because of the pandemics it caused during three periods of modern history: the Justinian Plague in the Middle East and Mediterranean, the Black Death in Europe, and the Modern Plague in China (Sutyak, n.d.). During the second period in the Middle Ages, the Black Death caused the most devastation in Europe within a relatively short amount of time, killing 25 million people in...
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...Alert and Response Network (GOARN), 2016).
The Black Death eradicated about a quarter of Europe’s population during the Middle Ages (Sutyak, n.d.), including those sent to Poveglia, and still affects thousands of people each year worldwide (Maps and Statistics, 2015). Therefore, research is being done to learn more about Y. pestis. For example, a team of scientists extracted DNA from two victims of the Justinian Plague and reconstructed this plague’s genome (Wagner et al, 2014). They found while the Justinian Plague, Black Death, and Modern Plague were all caused by Y. pestis, the strains from the Black Death and Modern Plague had different DNA lineages from those of the Justinian Plague (Wagner et al, 2014). They warned that in order to prevent future Black Death outbreaks, it is important to monitor Y. pestis in its reservoirs – the rodents (Wagner et al, 2014).
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