The Black Death

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The Black Death

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Institution

INTRODUCTION

The globe has seen quite a number of unpleasant events. In fact, the history of the entire globe was carved and continues to be carved by unpleasant events. Some of these are manmade while others are natural, with some of them remaining unresolved for a long time. In most cases, manmade calamities such as wars and acts of terror steal the show, alongside natural calamities such as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and others. Of course, natural calamities pique a lot of interest thanks to the fact that there remain quite a lot of hidden details. While there are variations in the magnitude and the interest that different calamities pique, plagues have been among the topmost both in magnitude and interest piqued. The human society has seen quite a number of plagues, none of which can match the magnitude of The Black Death plague.

The Black Death was a term given to arguably the largest pandemics to occur in Europe’s (and human) history in the mid-1300s. The plague peaked between 1348 and 1350 in Europe, leaving between 75 and 100 million people dead (Scott & Duncan, 2008). The Black Death was responsible for about 1.5 million deaths in Medieval England between 1348 and 1350. While there exist varied theories pertaining to the Black Death’s etiology, modern science has shown that the plague was mainly caused by the Yersinia Pestis bacterium (Byrne, 2004).

The Arrival and Spread of the Plague

The Black Death, according to varied accounts, had its origin as Central Asia or China. The disease then reached Crimea in 1346, travelling through Silk Road. Black rats are credited with its spread from Crimea to Europe and the Mediterranean as they were regularly found in merchant ships. These rats were infested with Oriental Rat fleas.

Historians note that the plague, carried by 12 Genoese ships into Sicily where it reached in October 1347 and spread all over the island. Venice and Genoa experienced the outbreak in January 1348, introduced by ships from Caffa. However, the key point of entry into Northern Italy was Pisa. Italy seems to have been the key spreading ground as it was from here that it spread northwest throughout Europe into Spain, England, Portugal and France by mid 1348. It then spread into Scandinavia and Germany in 1348, with Norway feeling the pinch in 1349 through its Askov port (Byrne, 2004). The plague then swept through Bjorgvin before finally sweeping through northwestern Russia around 1351. While a large part of Europe was affected, the plague did not touch certain parts such as the Kingdom of Poland, as well as some parts of Netherlands and Belgium.

England had the first outbreak between 1348-49, with the disease seeming to travel into the south in form of bubonic nodes in the summer months of 1348. On the onset of winter, the disease mutated into a significantly frightening pneumonic form, hitting London in 1348 and sweeping across East Anglia in the New Year. Midlands and Wales were already experiencing its pinch by spring 1349 (Byrne, 2004).

Causes of the plague and Human factors that enhanced the spread of the Black Death Plague

The Black Death resulted from fleas carried by the oriental black rats that were so common in cities and towns. The common fleas, which went by the botanical name Xenopsylla cheopis, carries the Yersinia pestis bacteria. Eventually, the bacteria in these fleas kills the rats, in which case the fleas will have to seek new hosts and homes, which more often than not is in humans. Once the humans were bitten by the fleas, bacteria would be directly transmitted into their bloodstream, from where it would spread throughout the blood stream and the human body.

Scholars note that, in about a fifth of the victims, the disease would spread into the lungs of the patient, resulting into a pneumonic plague. There were variations in the time taken for the victims to succumb to the disease, varying from 2 to seven days. However, the pneumonic plague comes as the most dangerous and highly infectious category of plague, with the bacteria being spread through the air (Byrne, 2004).

 

Human activities

Nevertheless, there were varied human activities or conditions that may have resulted in the spread of the disease especially in Medieval England.

First, it is noted that the conditions of living in cities and towns were far from the best. People lived extremely close to each other with not much attention being given to sanitation. In fact, most people were not very particular about their sanitation until the 19th century. These unsanitary conditions created fair grounds for overpopulation of rats carrying the fleas. While the rats may not have caused the disease, they were responsible for its fast spread, aided by the filth littering the streets (Byrne, 2004).

In an attempt to cure their sores, the people would also cut up the buboes and lance them so as to draw out the noxious poisons. In such cases, the buboes would release a spray of puss, which often escalated the spread of the plague. Even in instances where the patients got over the treatment, they became increasingly vulnerable to contracting other infections thank to the open sores (Byrne, 2006). While the treatment may have temporarily aided in relieving pain thanks to the release of puss, it worsened things for doctors, patients and those people around them.

In addition, the human society at this time was deficient of medical knowledge in which case they tried numerous techniques to escape the disease. Unfortunately, some of these techniques aided in the spread. An incredible example is the flagellants, who thought that the plague had resulted from God’s punishment, in which case they whipped themselves to show repentance. On the same note, they believed that the disease was in their blood, in which case they could eliminate it by bleeding (Byrne, 2006). They also though that the demons resided in their bodies causing the plague, in which case whipping themselves was a way of beating the demons. Unfortunately, the open sores only aggravated the spread of the disease.

Moreover, the people in this society believed that cats and dogs were aiding in the spread of the disease. In this case, they killed the dogs and cats, with the animals’ blood being used to make some concoctions thought to eliminate the plague (By.............


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