Accelerated English II
3 May 2013
The Black Death
As a pandemic that was able to spread from country to country and kill millions in the process, the Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was able to leave a mark on almost all of the Eastern hemisphere. Additionally and ironically, the impact the Black Death had on many countries was both negative and positive. While killing millions and destroying economies, the Bubonic plague also helped improved health care and sanitation. By far, it is easy to see that the Black Death was no simple disease and its effects would carry on for some time.
“Black Death is a mistranslation of the Latin word “atra” meaning both terrible and black” (Beneditow 42). Its meaning is nothing short of the impact it had, especially in the eastern hemisphere. The Bubonic Plague swept away 20-30 percent of Europe’s population (49). Sixty percent of Florence’s population died from the plague (42). In her book, Epidemics: Deadly Diseases throughout History: the Plague, Holly Cefrey gives an exact determination of the path that the Black Death took in sweeping across the eastern hemisphere. She states: In 1334, the plague originated in Asia, and in 1345, was carried west along the Silk Road east. By 1347, the plague struck the Italian peninsula and in 1348, it spread to France, England, Ireland, and Germany. Norway and Scotland were infected by 1349 (Cefrey 8-9). The Black Death was not an easy disease to contract and it tends to spread episodically or incidentally (Benedictow 43). The disease originated from fleas and small animals such as rats. “It was able to spread considerable distances by rodents on ships” (Benedictow 43). It was caused by a bacterium called Yersinia Pestis which tends to circulate among wild rodents (Beneditow 43). In the early 1300s, unusual weather patterns caused the plague bacteria to infect humans (Chester 90). Unlike many other illnesses, the Black Death took some time to infect humans but took very little time to kill them. “The infection takes three to five days to incubate in people before they fall ill and another three to five days before the victims die.” (43) And among those who died from the plague, there was a larger death rate of women and children than there was of men (49). Additionally, the weakness caused by chronic hunger among the poor made people more vulnerable to illness (McGill 2).
The Black Death was not an unnoticeable disease. Unlike many deadly diseases and illnesses that show few or no signs of infection until later on., it was impossible to not know you had the plague. Some of the regular symptoms of the Black Death were high fever, chills, headaches, and delirium which could be mistaken for any illness. Some of the more extreme and very general symptoms were helplessness, hemorrhages under the skin, darkened skin, swollen lymph nodes, white coating under the tongue, and sensitivity to light (Cefrey 47). While extreme and very different, these symptoms were all expected of those who were infected with the plague.
Ironically, there were many so called “treatments” for the Black Death. Treatment ranged from religious beatings to cutting the skin. But even with all the theories of healing created during the time, there was never a working cure for the black plague. Bloodletting was a common form of treatment where blood was drained until the patient fell faint. Another so called “treatment” was cupping which was the placement of heated cups on the skin. When the cups cooled, suction was created and caused the skin to swell (Cefrey 11-12). Herbal remedies such as potions and tonics were also used, and the most popular form of treatment for the plague was prayer. There were just as many superstitions for preventing the plague as there were for curing it. To prevent a direct transfer of bacteria from rodent to human, may people wore blood-soaked cloths inside ivory flea trap necklaces to keep fleas away (15). In a more...
Cited: Beneditow, Ole J. “Black Death” History Today 55.3 (2005): 42-49. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 March 2013
“Black Death.” The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students. Ed. William Chester Jordan.
Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1996. 90-92. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
Cefrey, Holly. Epidemics: Deadly Diseases Throughout History: The Plague. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2001.Print.
McGill, Sara Ann. “The Black Plague.” Black Plague (2009): 1-2. History Reference Center Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
McKitterick, Rosamond. Atlas of the Medieval World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
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