The Black Death

The Black Death

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The Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemic that hit Europe in history. The Black Death first emerged in the shores of Italy in the spring of 1348 (Gottfried,1). The plague came from several Italian merchant ships which were returning to Messina. Several sailors on board were dying of an unknown disease and a few days after arriving in Messina, several residents within and outside of Messina were dying as well (Poland 1). The Black Death was as deadly as it was because it was not limited by gender, age, or species. The Black Death was also very deadly because it could attack in three different forms: the bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague.
Even though the bubonic plague can not be transmitted among humans, it was the most common of the three plagues. The bubonic plague occurs when fleas feed on the blood of infected rodents, which are usually rats (Poland 1). The bacterium that causes the infection is known as Yersenia Pestis. The fleas then pass the bacteria when they bite a human or when materials infected with Yersenia pestis directly enters the body through a wound. The names of this plague come from the swellings, also known as buboes, that appeared on a victim’s neck, armpits, or groin (Gottfried,1).The lymph nodes suddenly become painful and swollen with pus especially in the groin. Later, the skin splits and oozes pus and blood. Blood also comes out of the victim’s urine which, like the rest of the symptoms, smells horribly. These swellings (also known as tumors) could be as small as an egg or as big as an apple. Even though some people survived this disease, others would have a life expectancy of a week.
The septicemic plague was transmitted in the same way as the bubonic plague. The septicemic plague was transmitted with direct contact with a flea bite. The only three hosts in which the disease could live in were in humans, rats, and fleas (Inspecta 1). Inside the rat flea, the bacteria Yersenia pestis multiply inside the flea which in turn, blocks the flea’s stomach causing it to be very hungry. As a result, the flea starts biting the host vigorously which in turn would spread the plague to the host. Since the bacterium is still blocking the flea’s stomach, the flea would still be hungry and therefore it would continue to bite other humans until it starves to death.

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The septicemic plague can be a complication by itself or a complication of bubonic or pneumonic plague (Labor 1). When the septicemic plague attacks by itself, its effects are the same as that of the bubonic plague only that the host does not develop buboes. Once inside the host, the bacterium starts to multiply in the blood. Some symptoms would be fever, chills, prostration, abdominal pain, shock, and bleeding into skin and other organs. Fortunately, the septicemic plague, like the bubonic plague, does not spread from person to person.
The pneumonic plague occurs when Yersenia pestis infects the lungs. Unlike the bubonic plague which can not be spread from person to person, the pneumonic plague can be transmitted through the air. There are many ways a person may contract the pneumonic plague. One is through breathing aerosolized bacteria which could happen in a bioterrorist attack. Another way to obtain the pneumonic plague was to breath in Yersenia pestis spread in the air from another person already infected with the pneumonic plague which would serve as an open door to Yersenia pestis. However, for a person to obtain it in this form, they would have to be in direct and close contact with the ill person
or animal for respiratory transmission (Labor 1). Finally, a person could obtain the pneumonic plague if he or she had either the bubonic or septicemic plague untreated or the bacteria spread to the lungs. Compared with the mortality rate of the untreated bubonic plague (50%), the untreated pneumonic plague’s mortality rate is of 100% because this disease focuses primarily on attacking the lungs.
After three years with the Black Death spreading all through Europe, about half of Europe’s population had fallen to this disease. The healthy were horrified with this disease that they barely made contact with each other if, at all.
One citizen avoided another; hardly any neighbor troubled about others, relatives never or hardly ever visited each other. Moreover, such terror was struck into the hearts of men and women by this calamity, that brother abandoned brother, and very often the wife her husband. What is even worse and nearly incredible is that fathers and mothers refused to see and tend their children, as if they had not been theirs… (Gottfried 3)
The Black Plague not only affected people physically but it also affected them mentally altering their moral stamina and makes them think they are on their own: Times of plague are always those in which the bestial and diabolical side of the human nature gains the upper hands. Nor is it necessesary to be superstitious or even pious to look upon great plagues as a conflict of the terrestrial forces with the development of mankind…(Ziegler 259)
The total deaths caused by the Black Plagues still unknown. Many have debated it was as high as 40% to as slow as 30% or as high as 45% to 23% (Ziegler 226). Giovanni Boccaccio described how easy one could get this plague in this quote:
How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfast with their kinfolk and the same night supped with their ancestors in the next world! The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like gods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.
Today, wild rodents in certain areas around the world are still infected with the plague. Outbreaks still continue to happen in communities as well in cities. These usually happen because of infected rats or fleas found in homes. There are about ten to fifteen persons infected with the plague per year in the United States. However, there are around 1,000 to 3,000 cases of the plague per year in the world (Dennis 1). Even though the Black Death has slowed down, a pandemic can still occur with the blink of an eye if we are not careful.
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