How The Bubonic Plague Was a Turning Point in History

Topics: Black Death, Bubonic plague, Great Plague of London Pages: 7 (2199 words) Published: February 18, 2014
How the Bubonic Plague Was A Turning Point in History…

The Bubonic Plague (also known as: the Black Death, the Black Plague, the Great Pestilence, etc.) is a disease that devastated the medieval world with a 9 out of 10 mortality rate (Vyas). It is so resilient that cases of infection are still being recorded in America today –although in a much milder manner. The plague then rid Europe of almost one-third of its population, leaving lasting effects wherever it had touched (Bussema and Witowski). This pestilence has since changed how we take on such diseases, and modified our tactics on handling epidemics and other contagious diseases. The Black Plague is an infection caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis (originally known as Pasteurella pestis) (Kohn). The name of the bacterium comes from the scientist that discovered it; French bacteriologist, Alexandre Yersin (Tyson). The pestilence has a typical incubation period of two to seven days before the symptoms begin to show. The plague has many symptoms, some of which include: chills, fever, nausea, and painful swelling of the lymph nodes (called buboes –from which the disease is named) that occur in the armpits and neck and groin. Other symptoms of the illness are: red spots on the skin that turned black, the rotting of flesh whilst still living, severe headache, weakness, and vomiting. Yet, most cases were fatal by the third day (Vyas). This disease was transferred from infected animals -most often rodents- into the fleas that were feeding on the rats. The bacteria were then injected into the bloodstream of humans at the site of the fleabite (Kohn). It is this transfer from rats to people which is why the plague was commonly referred to as a “poor person’s disease”. Because whereas the wealthy had buildings constructed of stone with slate or tile as roofing material (which are not very hospitable and inviting to the common house rat), the shoddier people had homes of dirt floors and thatched roofs with beds of straw. And with many of these houses tightly packed together in what were already less-than-sanitary conditions, this was the ideal breeding ground for the rats that housed the plague-infested rats (Tompson). The first outbreak of the Bubonic Plague was in China, in the early 1330’s. However, trade ships arriving in Sicily from China in 1347 were infected. By the time the ships had docked, the crew was either already dead or beginning to die from the plague. Italy was the center of commerce and trade in Europe at the time, and seeing as such was the case, the plague then spread very expeditiously and affected the surrounding country sides and more urban areas (Bussema and Witowski). The Black Death breached Europe, primarily through trade routes that involved China and Italy, in 1347. By 1348, it had reached as far north as London, England; as far west as Seville, Spain; and as far south as the northernmost regions of Africa (Palomino). Even though the plague affected most of the Eastern Hemisphere, some would argue that the plague hit England the hardest. The Great Mortality of England began in 1348 and lasted through 1350. It is believed that the plague had entered England through a port on the southern coastline in a place called, Melcombe Regis -what now is Weymouth. The Channel Islands were also said to have been the origin of the English Plague. Because the plague was a “poor person’s disease”, and the people in poverty usually lived in areas of tightly packed and substandard houses (“slums”) that provided for the majority of city population, the authorities required the presence of muck and rubbish to be eliminated from the streets. Although, due to the lack of correspondence between filth and plague (they still had yet to discover the connection that the rats and fleas had with the contraction and spreading of the sickness), their commendable efforts were in vain. The only reprieve that was had from the pestilence was during the winter months when the...

Bibliography: Palomino, Michael. Spreading of the Black plague in Europe. 2007. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 25 Feb 2013.
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