Since the reign of Emperor Justinian in 542 A.D.,

Yes man has one unwelcome organism along for the ride, Yersinia pestis. This is the bacterium more commonly know as the Black Death, the plague. Plague is divided into three biotypes, each associated with one of three major pandemics occurring in history. Each of these biotypes are then divided into three distinct types, classified by method of infection.
The most widely know is bubonic, an infection of plague that resides in the lymph nodes, causing them to swell. The Black Death of the 14th century was mainly of this type. Bubonic plague is commonly spread through fleas that have made a meal from an infected Rattus rattus.
The most dangerous type of plague is pneumonic. It can be spread through aerosol droplets released through coughs, sneezes, or through fluid contact. It may also become a secondary result of a case of untreated bubonic or septicemic plague. Although not as common as the bubonic strain, it is more deadly. It has an untreated mortality rate on nearly 100%, as compared to 50% untreated mortality for bubonic plague. It attacks the respiratory track, furthering the cycle.
The third type of plague is septemic. It is spread by direct bodily fluid contact. It may also develop as a secondary result of untreated bubonic or pneumonic plague.
A LITTLE HISTORY As mentioned before, the most known incidence of bubonic plague was in 14th century Europe. In 1346 reports of a terrible pestilence in China, spreading through Mesopotamia and Asia Minor had reached Europe, but caused no concern until two years later. In January of 1348 the plague had reached Marseille in France and Tunis in Africa. By the end of the next year the plague had reached as far as Norway, Scotland, Prussia, Iceland, and Italy. In 1351 the infection had spread to include Russia.
The plague was an equal opportunity killer. In Avignon nine bishops were killed, King Alfonso XI of Castile succumbed, and peasants died wherever they lay. Though the plague had, for the most part, ceased less than ten years after it started, it killed nearly one third of the European population. In many towns the dead outnumbered the living. Bodies piled in the streets faster than nuns, monks, and relatives could bury them. Many bodies were interred in mass graves, overflowing with dead, or dumped into nearby rivers. Domesticated cats and dogs, along with wolves, dug dead out of shallow graves, and sometimes attacked those still living. Many animals did either from plague or lack of care. Henry Knighton noted more than 5,000 dead sheep in one field alone.
The death of a very large portion of the work force aided those that were still living. The sheer scarcity of workers enabled the remainder to make demands of higher wages and better conditions. Farms located on poor soil were abandoned because the demand for grain had decreased, enabling fewer farms, located on the better tracts of land to feed the population.
For a more in-depth look at the effect that plague had on the literature of the time please visit my other page on the bubonic plague. It is a copy of my research paper that I did as a high school senior. I know people will plagarize it, and I really can’t stop you. But I do have two requests. First- don’t plagarize it and repost it on the internet. Its one thing if you lie to a teacher and say something is yours, its another thing to lie to the whole world about it. Secondly- tell me what grade you got on it… You can find it here.
There have been a few encounters with bubonic plague in modern times. In the American and Canadian west, from Texas and Oklahoma in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, it is most often transmitted from species of squirrels. The last occurrence of transmissions from rats to people, or people to people in the United States occurred in 1924 in Los Angeles. In that epidemic there were 32 cases of pneumonic plague with 31 fatalities. Since then there have been around 16 cases a year in the United States, most connected with rock squirrels and its common flea Oropsylla montana.
In the years of World War II the Japaneese army formed a special biological warfare division. This unit worked on developing a method to deliver the plague bacteria to the civilian population of China. They tested the effectiveness of the plague as a weapon of war first on prisoners of war, then on unsuspecting civilians. In their first tests they confined a small group of prisioners in a room with thousands of plague infested fleas. The moratlity rate in these experiments were somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60 percent.
The next step was to release the plague on the general population of Manchuria. This was accomplished by planes flying over cities and villages and releasing huge amounts of plague infested fleas over the town. When this proved to be an inaccurate way of spreading the disease, and would periodiocally result in the infection of the air crew, another method was devised. The infected fleas were packed into the shell of a conventional bomb and dropped, exploding just over the targeted towns. While exact figures are not know, it is known that these attacks killed many people and caused wide-spread terror in the towns.
In the early 1330s an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague occurred in China. Plague mainly affects rodents, but fleas can transmit the disease to people. Once people are infected, they infect others very rapidly. Plague causes fever and a painful swelling of the lymph glands called buboes, which is how it gets its name. The disease also causes spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn black.
Since China was one of the busiest of the world’s trading nations, it was only a matter of time before the outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. Within days the disease spread to the city and the surrounding countryside. An eyewitness tells what happened:
“Realizing what a deadly disaster had come to them, the people quickly drove the Italians from their city. But the disease remained, and soon death was everywhere. Fathers abandoned their sick sons. Lawyers refused to come and make out wills for the dying. Friars and nuns were left to care for the sick, and monasteries and convents were soon deserted, as they were stricken, too. Bodies were left in empty houses, and there was no one to give them a Christian burial.”
The disease struck and killed people with terrible speed. The Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often
“ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”
By the following August, the plague had spread as far north as England, where people called it “The Black Death” because of the black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and Medieval medicine had nothing to combat it.
In winter the disease seemed to disappear, but only because fleas–which were now helping to carry it from person to person–are dormant then. Each spring, the plague attacked again, killing new victims. After five years 25 million people were dead–one-third of Europe’s people.
Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years, but for centuries. The survivors lived in constant fear of the plague’s return, and the disease did not disappear until the 1600s.
Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labor shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the 1300s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy.
The disease took its toll on the church as well. People throughout Christendom had prayed devoutly for deliverance from the plague. Why hadn’t those prayers been answered? A new period of political turmoil and philosophical questioning lay ahead.
Estimated population of Europe from 1000 to 1352.
25 million people died in just under five years between 1347 and 1352.
Hundreds of thousands of people – men. women and children – are dying in every country in Europe, struck down by an epidemic of an apparently incurable plague which the healthy and afflicted alike call the Black Death”.
Not since the sixth century has such an epidemic attacked Europe. Spreading from Asia. and carried by rat-fleas via the ports of the Black Sea. the plague takes two forms. Bubonic plague is seen in the swellings, or buboes. That inflate the lymph nodes at the neck, armpit or groin, while the pneumonic” plague affects the lungs. and vic tims choke on their own blood.
The plague has stunned Europe, and everywhere people are desperate for an explanation. Some blame invisible particles carried in the wind, others talk of poisoned wells. Many inevitably, blame the Jews. Immediate responses differ widely. Some choose to challenge the plague by bouts of riotous living, others seek protection by barring their doors and living as recluses. Neither method has halted the disease. Others have left home, seeking safety in the remote countryside, but often they too have fallen ill. Attempts to bar villages, towns, even whole cities, to sufferers have all failed. The plague moves on.
The outbreak has shattered communities. Families havebeen set against each other- the well rejecting the sick. Essential services have collapsed; law and order, with so many administrators struck down, barely exist in some areas. A sense of panic pervades Europe and everyone, it appears, is struggling only for his own survival. Properties stand empty, de serted by desperate owners; the sick die alone, for even the most deoted doctors cannot save them: corpses are simply dumped in the street or buried in mass graves. Some depraved creatures, them selves already infected, break into houses and threaten to contaminate all within unless bribed to leave. Agriculture is at a standstill. Crops wither in the fields; cattle wander untended.
Doctors do what they can, but the plague seems irresistible. Even the most expert physicians can do little more than help strengthen people’s resolve and build morale.
Some recommend the burning of aromatic woods and herbs; others suggest special diets, courses of bleeding, new postures for sleeping and many other remedies. The very rich are trying medicines made of gold and pearls. The terrible truth is that nothing seems to work. Flight is the best option, and if one cannot fly, then all that remains is resignation and prayer.
The Medieval Miracles of Healing — Medical Science
So it was that, throughout antiquity, during the early history of the Church, throughout the Middle Ages, and indeed down to a comparatively recent period, testimony to miraculous interpositions which would now be laughed at by a schoolboy was accepted by the leaders of thought. St. Augustine was certainly one of the strongest minds in the early Church, and yet we find him mentioning, with much seriousness, a story that sundry innkeepers of his time put a drug into cheese which metamorphosed travellers into domestic animals, and asserting that the peacock is so favoured by the Almighty that its flesh will not decay, and that he has tested it and knows this to be a fact. With such a disposition regarding the wildest stories, it is not surprising that the assertion of St. Gregory of Nazianzen, during the second century, as to the cures wrought by the martyrs Cosmo and Damian, was echoed from all parts of Europe until every hamlet had its miracle-working saint or relic.
The literature of these miracles is simply endless. To take our own ancestors alone, no one can read the Ecclesiastical History of Bede, or Abbot Samson’s Miracles of St. Edmund, or the accounts given by Eadmer and Osbern of the miracles of St. Dunstan, or the long lists of those wrought by Thomas a Becket, or by any other in the army of English saints, without seeing the perfect naturalness of this growth. This evolution of miracle in all parts of Europe came out of a vast preceding series of beliefs, extending not merely through the early Church but far back into paganism. Just as formerly patients were cured in the temples of sculapius, so they were cured in the Middle Ages, and so they are cured now at the shrines of saints. Just as the ancient miracles were solemnly attested by votive tablets, giving names, dates, and details, and these tablets hung before the images of the gods, so the medieval miracles were attested by similar tablets hung before the images of the saints; and so they are attested to-day by similar tablets hung before the images of Our Lady of La Salette or of Lourdes. Just as faith in such miracles persisted, in spite of the small percentage of cures at those ancient places of healing, so faith persists to-day, despite the fact that in at least ninety per cent of the cases at Lourdes prayers prove unavailing. As a rule, the miracles of the sacred books were taken as models, and each of those given by the sacred chroniclers was repeated during the early ages of the Church and through the medieval period with endless variations of circumstance, but still with curious fidelity to the original type.
It should be especially kept in mind that, while the vast majority of these were doubtless due to the myth-making faculty and to that development of legends which always goes on in ages ignorant of the relation between physical causes and effects, some of the miracles of healing had undoubtedly some basis in fact. We in modern times have seen too many cures performed through influences exercised upon the imagination, such as those of the Jansenists at the Cemetery of St. Medard, of the Ultramontanes at La Salette and Lourdes, of the Russian Father Ivan at St. Petersburg, and of various Protestant sects at Old Orchard and elsewhere, as well as at sundry camp meetings, to doubt that some cures, more or less permanent, were wrought by sainted personages in the early Church and throughout the Middle Ages.
There are undoubtedly serious lesions which yield to profound emotion and vigorous exertion born of persuasion, confidence, or excitement. The wonderful power of the mind over the body is known to every observant student. Mr. Herbert Spencer dwells upon the fact that intense feeling or passion may bring out great muscular force. Dr. Berdoe reminds us that:
a gouty man who has long hobbled about on his crutch, finds his legs and power to run with them if pursued by a wild bull.
and that the feeblest invalid, under the influence of delirium or other strong excitement, will astonish her nurse by the sudden accession of strength.
But miraculous cures were not ascribed to persons merely. Another growth, developed by the early Church mainly from germs in our sacred books, took shape in miracles wrought by streams, by pools of water, and especially by relics. Here, too, the old types persisted, and just as we find holy and healing wells, pools, and streams in all other ancient religions, so we find in the evolution of our own such examples as Naaman the Syrian cured of leprosy by bathing in the river Jordan, the blind man restored to sight by washing in the pool of Siloam, and the healing of those who touched the bones of Elisha, the shadow of St. Peter, or the handkerchief of St. Paul.
St. Cyril, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and other great fathers of the early Church, sanctioned the belief that similar efficacy was to be found in the relics of the saints of their time; hence, St. Ambrose declared that ”the precepts of medicine are contrary to celestial science, watching, and prayer,” and we find this statement reiterated from time to time throughout the Middle Ages. From this idea was evolved that fetichism which we shall see for ages standing in the way of medical science.
Theology, developed in accordance with this idea, threw about all cures, even those which resulted from scientific effort, an atmosphere of supernaturalism. The vividness with which the accounts of miracles in the sacred books were realized in the early Church continued the idea of miraculous intervention throughout the Middle Ages. The testimony of the great fathers of the Church to the continuance of miracles is overwhelming; but everything shows that they so fully expected miracles on the slightest occasion as to require nothing which in these days would be regarded as adequate evidence.
In this atmosphere of theologic thought medical science was at once checked. The School of Alexandria, under the influence first of Jews and later of Christians, both permeated with Oriental ideas, and taking into their theory of medicine demons and miracles, soon enveloped everything in mysticism. In the Byzantine Empire of the East the same cause produced the same effect; the evolution of ascertained truth in medicine, begun by Hippocrates and continued by Herophilus, seemed lost forever. Medical science, trying to advance, was like a ship becalmed in the Sargasso Sea: both the atmosphere about it and the medium through which it must move resisted all progress. Instead of reliance upon observation, experience, experiment, and thought, attention was turned toward supernatural agencies.
Just mention the name and you will send shivers down the spine of many people.
There is no doubt that this disease was deadly. Deadly and gruesome to watch.
The death rate was 90% for those exposed to the bacterium. It was transmitted by the fleas from infected Old English black rats. The symptoms were clear: swollen lymph nodes (buboes, hence the name), high fever, and delirium. In the worst case, the lungs became infected and the pneumonic form was spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or simply talking.
From the time of infection to death was less than one week.
There were three major epidemics – in the 6th, 14th, and 17th centuries.
The death toll was 137 million victims.
As a result, the plague is considered to be the worst epidemic of all time, but it wasn’t (not that we are downplaying the severity of the plague).
At its worst, the bubonic plague killed 2 million victims a year.
This is certainly a bad situation, but there is one that is worse.
The pandemic (an epidemic that is spread worldwide) that killed at least 25 million people in one year.
A disease that is largely forgotten.
A disease that occurred in the 20th century!
I know what you’re thinking – AID’s, Syphilis, or the dreaded Ebola.
It was the influenza of 1918-1919, right after World War I (the war killed 9 million men in 4 years)
This was no minor disease – everyone on the planet was at risk.
And it was started right here in the good old U. S. of A.
In one year, nearly twenty million cases were reported in the United States, accounting for almost one million deaths.
The cause is still unknown, but is believed to have been a mutated swine virus.
It all started on the morning of March 11, 1918 at Camp Funston, Kansas.
A company cook named Albert Mitchell reported to the infirmary with typical flu-like symptoms – a low-grade fever, mild sore throat, slight headache, and muscle aches. Bed rest was recommended.
Within two days, 522 people were sick. Many were gravely ill with severe pneumonia.
Then reports started coming in from other military bases around the country.
Thousands of sailors docked off the East Coast were sick.
Within a week, the influenza was hitting isolated places, such as the island of Alcatraz.
Whatever the cause, it was clearly airborne.
Within seven days, every state in the Union had been infected.
Then it spread across the Atlantic.
By April, French troops and civilians were infected.
By mid-April, the disease had spread to China and Japan.
By May, the virus was spread throughout Africa and South America.
The actual killer was the pneumonia that accompanied the infection.
In Philadelphia, 158 out of every 1000 people died. 148 out of 1000 in Baltimore. 109 out of 1000 in Washington, D. C..
The good news (if there was any) was that the disease peaked within two to three weeks after showing up in a given city. It left as quickly as it arrived.
The United States death toll was a total of 850,000 people, making it an area of the world that was least devastated by this virus.
Sixty percent of the Eskimo population was wiped out in Nome, Alaska.
80-90% of the Samoan population was infected, many of the survivors dying from starvation (they lacked the energy to feed themselves).
Luxury ocean liners from Europe would arrive in New York with 7% less passengers than they embarked with. The confined area of the ship was especially conducive to the spread of the disease.
In the end, 25 million people had died. Some estimates put the number as high as 37 million
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