by Ashley Perez
The Black Plague, often referred to as the Black Death, was a runaway, and widespread pestilence, which struck numerous continents in different forms between the mid-1400 until the 1700’s. It swept across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, appearing in several forms, but the most common form was bubonic, a term meaning “black death”, which is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis.
The cause of the rapid, and vast, spread of the Black Plague was said to be the infected flees of dead rats, which carried the bacteria Yersinia Pestis. Once the flees had jumped off of the dead rats and bite people, the infection was let loose.
Symptoms of the disease, such as open sores and boils, were more than simply hideous looking, they were also extremely painful. The infected would start to show symptoms after three to seven days. They would suffer chills, fever, diarrhea, nausea, headaches, and a swelling of the lymph nodes. Blood would also begin to flow into the organs and under the skin causing black patches to appear over the armpit and groin area of the body. The first outbreak started in Northern India around 1347. The last major outbreak occurred in London, England during 1665-1666.
That final outbreak killed nearly 100,000 people, roughly one-third of London’s population. It is believed the disease arrived on trading ships from Amsterdam, thriving on the docks, which were often one of the dirtiest parts of the city. A lack of proper sanitation also contributed to the spread of the disease. During the plague’s chokehold on humanity, hygiene was problematic and resources for clean living were scarce, which only enhanced its breeding ground.
Although the first recorded case was April 12, 1665, there were several deaths during the winter of 1664-1665. It is believed that the cold winter helped to slow the outbreak. When summer came around, deaths started happening more frequently. Deaths started by the hundreds, but increased by 1000 a week, than it was 2000 a week and by late 1665 it was 7000 people a week. In an effort to slow the disease, under-qualified physicians would start large fires in order to sanitize the air. On September 2 and 3rd of 1666, the Great Fire of London killed most of the disease. Most of the rats and flees were incinerated and the thatched roofs that housed the rats were destroyed. An interesting fact is that after the Great Plague and Fire of London, thatched roofs were forbidden to be made on the new constructed buildings.
One of the more horrific aspects of the Black Plague was its use as a biological weapon. It is said that when invading armies would come, they would pollute the enemies’ water supply with the carcasses of dead animals infected with the plague. They would also throw infected dead bodies over city walls and infect its inhabitants. In later centuries, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States all used the plague as biological weapons.
Despite today’s modern medicine and hygiene, there are still occasional isolated plague cases popping up. Once case appeared on April 19, 2006 in Los Angeles, California, and another on May 16, 2006 in San Juan County, Utah.