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The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) Essay, Research Paper
The Bubonic plague is a contagious disease, which can reach epidemic proportions, transmitted to humans by the fleas of an infected rat. The most telltale sign of the plague is the enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or neck. The name for the Bubonic plague originated from the name for the swollen lymph nodes: Buboes. The disease is also called the Black Death. The reason for this nickname might have been the black spots on the skin or the purplish tint on an infected person?s skin. The Black Death is known as the most fatal disease of the middle ages.
The bacteria called Yersinia Pestis causes the disease. The whole cycle begins with an infected rat. A rat flea (Xenopsylla Cheopis) bites the rat and the bacteria fills the stomach of the flea completely full. This makes it so the flea cannot digest any blood. The flea becomes so overwhelmingly hungry that it sucks blood into its already full stomach. This causes the flea to vomit, thus spreading the bacteria.
The first symptoms of infection are headaches, nausea, vomiting, and aching joints. As the disease progresses, enlarged lymph nodes, chills, high fever (101 to 105 degrees), and prostration occur. The bacteria may also invade the lungs in a form of the plague, pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is rapidly fatal and can be transmitted from person to person. Death may occur within about four days for bubonic plague, less for pneumonic plague. The mortality rate for pneumonic plague is nearly 100%, while bubonic plague is 50-75%.
The first appearances of this disease may have occurred in 542 AD, but the first major outbreak did not occur until the 14th century. In Europe, this outbreak killed one third of Europe?s population–25 million people–in only 5 years. In the late 1340s, native people of China began dying from a mysterious illness. A couple years later, several Italian merchants returned from a trip to the Black Sea, ill from this mysterious disease. Rats escaped from the ship and the plague rapidly spread to the city, then the countryside, and eventually the majority of Europe. Death was everywhere; in some cities, the dead outnumbered the living.
The plague caused drastic changes for many people. Because of all the deaths, there were serious labor shortages. Workers demanded higher wages, but landlords refused. These conflicts caused peasant revolts in England, France, Belgium, and Italy. Even the whole idea of death changed. Death was no longer represented by heavenly beings, but rather as an elderly woman with a black cloak and wild, snakelike hair. It was during the Bubonic plague that anger toward the Roman Catholic Church intensified and the persecution of Jews intensified.
As the number of church clergy increased, many individuals began to suspect the Church officials were responsible for the spread of the Bubonic Plague. With the goal of dispelling this new fear of the clergy, a group of people called ?flagellants? emerged. They placed blame for the spread of the plague on the sins of men and women. They taught that God was punishing these sins with the plague. The group traveled from town to town, congregating in the center of the town. Participants would sit in a circle and beat themselves with a scourge. A scourge was a wooden stick with three or four leather pieces attached to one end. There was a sharp iron spike about an inch long at the end of each leather whip. However, the flagellants? ?cure? failed to help anyone. Instead, their practice of traveling town to town actually helped spread the disease. In 1349, Pope Clement VI declared them to be heretical.
Unfortunately, while most of the flagellants? ideas died out, one of them didn?t. The flagellants had helped to spread the belief that the Jews infected the city?s wells with contaminated vials. Accusations against the Jews were bad enough, but they became worse when it was discovered that the Jews did not get their water from the city wells. (Actually, because of kosher laws, the Jews drew their water from country springs.) In 1348, eleven Jews were charged with contaminating a well in a German town. They were tortured and forced to confess falsely. After this trial, in other cities, Jews were banned from the town or herded into barns and burned alive. Some were even burned at the stake.
In addition to the idea that the Jews were to blame, there were several strange theories about how the plague was spread. A man named Galen made one theory. He claimed that the disease was spread by poisonous vapors. These vapors supposedly came from the swamps. People were advised to avoid marshy regions or at least close up their homes and stay inside. They were also advised to try and keep cool because heat was thought to be another source of the plague. People were told to wash their hands and feet, but never their bodies. Washing the body would open pores, and the pores were supposedly another place the disease could enter. Foul smelling air was another thing thought to spread the plague. People were not supposed to sleep on their backs because the vapors could get to their nose more easily, and many people walked around carrying flowers in their noses. Large bonfires were lit to make sure the poisonous vapors didn?t get to people.
Even though death from the Bubonic Plague was extremely likely, physicians still tried to help sick patients. They would bleed the heart hoping that they could get the overheated blood out before it could circulate throughout the whole body. They also bled the buboes to try to heal the infected areas. All this bleeding only resulted in the patients becoming weaker. Now a day, we know that using antibiotics, such as tetracycline and streptomycin can help cure the disease. We also know that the plague spread very rapidly because of bad sanitation. There were piles of trash all over the cities, because there was no regular pick-up day. Leftovers from meals were left on the ground for animals, rats accidentally included. There was no running water, so bathing was a rarity.
The Black Death continued to terrorize people for a long time. People were hopeful in the winter when the fleas were dormant, but the terror would reoccur in the spring. The cycle finally ended in the 1600s, centuries after the outbreak began. Since then, there have still been a few cases of the plague. During World War II, the Japanese formed a special biological warfare division. They worked on a way to spread the plague to the Chinese. They tried flying over cities and releasing plague-infected fleas over the towns. When crewmembers accidentally became infected from the fleas, the Japanese changed their method to packing the fleas into a bomb before dropping them. In the American and Canadian west there have even been several cases. In 1924 in the United States there was a small epidemic, with 32 cases.
The numbers of human cases of this plague have increased since 1960, because the environment is not staying clean. The only way to stop this is to start picking up the environment. Keep yourself and your home clean. Don?t let history repeat itself!
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