The Black Death



The bubonic plague is a bacterial infection that has existed since ancient times. It is responsible for killing hundreds of millions of people throughout history, most famously in Europe during the sixth century onward. The plague is characterized by the painful swelling of the lymph nodes which are referred to as “buboes”. The plague comes in different shapes and methods of infection, the most commonly known from a bite from an infected flea. Airborne and septicemic infections are also possible. Today, the bubonic plague is mostly controlled through better knowledge of medical science and far more sanitary conditions that did not exist in the past. However, the bubonic plague has not gone the way of smallpox and still occasionally crops up even in our modern society.

The first article that I found about a modern-day infection was from NPR (National Public Radio) and details the bubonic infection of a teenage girl from Oregon after a hunting trip. The teen girl is said to be in stable condition, only due to the diligence of the medical community and the expert knowledge we have obtained over centuries of dealing with the plague. The primary source I found in relation to the article was an excerpt from a self-help book published during the Renaissance detailing the methods of curing and preventing the bubonic plague. Many of the methods are severely outdated due to the fact that the plague was viewed either as a punishment from God or could be cured or prevented by smelling various sweet herbs and flowers (hence the infamous plague doctor masks which contained lavender in the tip of their beaks).

Both sources are related to each other through the methods in which they used to prevent and cure the bubonic plague. In modern medicine, we use antibiotics, oxygen, and intravenous fluids to treat the infection, while in the past they would “…Take Rosemary dryed, Juniper, Bay-leaves, or Frankincense, and cast the same upon the coals in a chafing-dish, and receive the fume or smoke thereof into your head.” Both sources also raise the issue that without our vast, improved knowledge of bacteria and methods of infection, we would still be inhaling incense and praying away the sickness.

So why should you care? Well, the fact of the matter is, despite the fact that the majority of the plague’s threat has been culled, the plague is still something that exists today. Precautions should still be taken to avoid infection, (such as avoiding handling dead animals in areas that are known for plague) just like any other disease. Although there have been no recorded cases of plague in Minnesota [Source] , there is still a risk for people who travel into the western United States or out of the country. The excerpt from the self-help book is a reminder of just how far medical science has come and how it benefits us in our daily lives.


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