September 16, 2020

The grim reality of having the plague in the 14th century:

By Nilakhi Banerjee

The Black Death was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. The plague arrived in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea. Docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. People gathered on the docks were met with a horrifying surprise: Most sailors aboard the ships were dead. And those still alive were gravely ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships”. Out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years. The Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe—almost one-third of the continent’s population.

Symptoms of the Black Plague

Europeans were scarcely equipped for the horrible reality of the Black Death. “In men and women alike,” the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote, “at the beginning of the malady, certain swellings. Either on the groin or under the armpits…waxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less. And these the vulgar named plague-boils.”

How Do You Treat the Black Death?

Physicians relied on crude and unsophisticated techniques such as bloodletting and boil-lancing. Practices that were dangerous as well as unsanitary and superstitious practices such as burning aromatic. Herbs and bathing in rosewater or vinegar.

Meanwhile, in a panic, healthy people did all they could to avoid the sick. Doctors refused to see patients; priests refused to administer last rites; and shopkeepers closed their stores. Many people fled the cities for the countryside, but even there they could not escape the disease. It affected cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens as well as people.

Black Plague: God’s Punishment?

Because they did not understand the biology of the disease. Many people believed that the Black Death was a kind of divine punishment. Retribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication and worldliness.

By this logic, the only way to overcome the plague was to win God’s forgiveness. Some people believed that the way to do this was to purge their communities of heretics and other troublemakers. So, for example, many thousands of Jews were massacred in 1348 and 1349. (Thousands more fled to the sparsely populated regions of Eastern Europe. Where they could be relatively safe from the rampaging mobs in the cities.)

How Did The Black Death End?

The plague never really ended and it returned with a vengeance years later. But officials in the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa were able to slow its spread by keeping arriving sailors. In isolation until it was clear they were not carrying the disease. Creating social distancing that relied on isolation to slow the spread of the disease.

Can Bubonic Plague make a Comeback?

The Black Death epidemic had run its course by the early 1350s. But the plague reappeared every few generations for centuries. Modern sanitation and public-health practices have greatly mitigated the impact of the disease but have not eliminated it. While antibiotics are available to treat the Black Death, according to The World Health Organization, there are still 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year.

Last week, a Colorado squirrel tested positive for Bubonic plague. You would think this is worthy of significant concern – However, it is not anything to lose any sleep over.

The Bubonic plague, unlike viruses such as COVID-19, is bacterial, not viral. Other examples of simple bacterial diseases are Strep throat and Pneumonia. One major difference between bacterial and viral infections is how they are treated. Viruses usually require a specific vaccine or cure to successfully combat them. Bacteria, on the other hand, can be easily treated by simple antibiotics, which are relatively easy to obtain, and have been for almost 100 years. Another major difference is that bacteria are much simpler than viruses structurally, and rarely mutate, so they are very easy to predict and counteract.

Bubonic plague

There’s a reason the last major pandemic of Bubonic plague was in the middle ages. Epidemiologists and historians both unanimously agree that the reason that the plague was so bad back then was for several different reasons – none of which are applicable to our current society.

In artwork, the Black Death wasn’t just a disease, it had become a living, breathing creature, personifying the fear of infection. People portrayed the disease as a hooded  figure that would shuffle from house to house with the intention of inflicting illness.

You can imagine this was a terrifying idea, especially in such a superstitious era. But, does this being still live amongst us?

The short answer is yes. Times have changed but the bubonic plague still exists. In fact, we still see this disease in many countries, though it seems to attract less notoriety than it once received in Europe.

The Black Death seems to have retreated to its source: Central Asia, although the disease differs slightly to its UK counterpart. Still alive and kicking, the plagues circulates  among rodents, including the great gerbil (Rhombomysopimus).

Now, the great gerbil differs from your typical grubby, London rat. They are very social and live in the deserts, in large family burrows. We all associate the Black Death with filthy, sewer dwelling vermin, but unfortunately looks can be deceiving.

A comeback?

In a BMC Biology, a researcher suggested climate change could give the bubonic plague the warmth it needs to spread. We’ve seen diseases, such as cholera, break out more readily when the waters warm up. And salmonella food poisoning is most active in summer, thanks to high temperatures boosting the growth of bacterial communities.

It was also argued that climate change may influence rodents carrying the plague. If temperature rises, this may impact vegetation and food sources. With nothing to eat, would these creatures look to human populations for shelter and nourishment? The heat could bring humans and vermin closer together, meaning greater opportunity for infection.

Another growing concern we now face is antibiotic resistance. David Cameron, Prime Minister of England, recently made the comment that antibiotic resistance would take us back to the “dark ages”. This rings true with the bubonic plague, which inflicted so much destruction during the Medieval era.

Six Documented cases of Plague:

The Plague of Justinian

Justinian I is often credited as the most influential Byzantine emperor, but his reign also coincided with one of the first well-documented outbreaks of plague. The pandemic is believed to have originated in Africa and then spread to Europe through infected rats on merchant ships. It reached the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 541 A.D., and was soon claiming up to 10,000 lives per day—so many that unburied bodies were eventually stacked inside buildings or left in the open.

According to accounts by the ancient historian Procopius, the victims demonstrated many of the classic symptoms of bubonic plague, including sudden fever and swollen lymph nodes. Justinian himself was stricken and managed to recover, but over a third of Constantinople’s residents were not so lucky. Even after it subsided in Byzantium, the plague continued to reappear in Europe, Africa and Asia for several years, causing widespread famine and devastation. It is believed to have killed at least 25 million people, but the actual death toll may have been much higher.

The Black Death

In 1347, a virulent strain of plague invaded Europe from the East, most likely via Italian sailors returning home from Crimea. This “Black Death” would eventually spend half a decade tearing across the continent. The populations of whole towns were wiped out, and it was said that the living spent most of their time burying the dead in mass graves. “We see death coming into our midst like black smoke,” the Welsh poet JeuanGethin wrote, “a plague which cuts off the young, a rootless phantom which has no mercy or fair countenance.” Medieval physicians tried to combat the disease using bloodletting, lancing and other crude techniques, but with little understanding of its cause, most fell back on the belief that it was a divine punishment for their sins.

Some Christians even blamed it on Jews and launched bloody pogroms. The Black Death finally subsided in the West around 1353, but not before it killed as many as 50 million people—more than half the population of Europe. While the pandemic left much of the continent in disarray, many historians also believe that the labor shortages it caused were a boon to lower class workers, who saw increased economic and social mobility.

The Italian Plague of 1629-31

Even after the Black Death ended, bubonic plague continued to sporadically rear its ugly head in Europe for several centuries. One of the most calamitous outbreaks began in 1629, when troops from the Thirty Years’ War carried the infection into the Italian city of Mantua. Over the next two years, the plague snaked its way across the countryside, striking the major cities of Verona, Milan, Venice, and Florence. In Milan and Venice, city authorities quarantined the sick in “pesthouses” and burned their clothes and possessions to prevent the spread of infection.

The Venetians even banished some of their plague victims to a pair of islands in a nearby lagoon. These harsh measures may have helped contain the scourge, but it still killed some 280,000 people, including over half the residents of Verona. The Republic of Venice, meanwhile, lost nearly a third of its population of 140,000. Some scholars have since argued that the outbreak may have sapped the city-state’s strength and led to its decline as a major player on the world stage.

4. The Great Plague of London

Plague laid siege to the city of London several times during the 16th and 17th centuries, most famously between 1665 and 1666. The pestilence first arose in the suburb of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, but it soon traveled into the cramped and filthy neighborhoods of the city proper. At its peak in September 1665, some 8,000 people were dying each week. The wealthy—including King Charles II—fled to the countryside, leaving the poor as the plague’s main victims.

“Never did so many husbands and wives die together,” a reverend named Thomas Vincent wrote, “never did so many parents carry their children with them to the grave.” As the sickness spread, London’s authorities tried to contain the infected by quarantining them in their homes, which were marked with a red cross. Somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 people eventually perished before the outbreak died down in 1666. Later that same year, London was visited by a second major tragedy when the Great Fire of 1666 torched much of its city center.

5. The Great Plague of Marseille

Western Europe’s last major outbreak of medieval plague began in 1720, when a “mortal distemper” seized the French port city of Marseille. The disease arrived on a merchant ship called the Grand Saint Antoine, which had picked up infected passengers during a journey to the Middle East. The vessel was quarantined, but its owner—who also happened to be Marseille’s deputy mayor—convinced health officials to let him unload its cargo. Plague-carrying rat fleas soon spread across the city, sparking an epidemic. People died by the thousands, and the piles of bodies on the streets grew so large that convicts were conscripted to dispose of them. In nearby Provence, “plague walls” were even built to try to and contain the infection, but it still spilled over into southern France before finally disappearing in 1722. By then, it had killed roughly 100,000 people.

The Third Plague Pandemic

The first two major plague pandemics began with the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death. The most recent, the so-called “Third Pandemic,” erupted in 1855 in the Chinese province of Yunnan. The disease traversed the globe over the next several decades, and by the beginning of the 20th century, infected rats traveling on steamships had carried it to all six inhabited continents.

The worldwide outbreak would eventually claim some 15 million lives before petering out in the 1950s. Most of the devastation took place in China and India, but there were also scattered cases from South Africa to San Francisco. Despite the heavy casualties, the Third Pandemic led to several breakthroughs in doctors’ understanding of the bubonic plague. In 1894, a Hong Kong-based doctor named Alexandre Yersin identified the bacillus Yersinia pestis as the cause of the disease. A few years later, another physician finally confirmed that bites from rat fleas were the main way the infection spread to humans.With this is mind, what’s to say a warmer planet and a reduced ability to treat them won’t encourage exiled diseases to return?.

The idea of Time Rap:

In few of our previous articles we mentioned the concept of time as a rotating wheel. Time repeats itself. Whatever happened in the past will again happen in future. Plague is probably making a comeback due to this phenomenon of nature cycle. The earth one day will become unsuitable for human dwelling. This will be due to such ancient diseases like  that will come back and the Kal Chakra will rotate.

So it’s high time we stop abusing nature. Keep following us and stay tuned.