Ebola or Plague?

According to an ABC news story, the Black Death may not have been the disease that has been accused of killing millions of people in 14th century Europe. There is new evidence that the pathogen guilty of the plague was actually a virus, similar to Ebola, that was spread from person to person. In a description of the plague written by an Italian writer during the time of the plague, he mentioned the welts that are caused by the disease. Researchers suggest that a hemorrhagic fever that cause blood vessels to burst is most likely the cause of the welts on the skin. This type of fever is similar to the type of fever an Ebola victim would get. Also, Christopher Duncan, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, noted that the pathogen that spread in 14th century Europe spread at a rate of 30 miles in just two or three days while the bubonic plague moves at a rate of 100 yards per year. And, in the primary source describing a time during the plague, it mentions that the disease does spread from person to person. This is important because it provides evidence of a viral-like disease because the spread from person to person is common for viruses but not as much for bacteria. Also, if the spread was between people and not between fleas and people, this would give evidence to why quarantines were relatively effective in stopping the Black Death. Quarantines can stop people from coming into contact with one another, but it can’t stop rats or fleas very well. So, since the quarantines were effective, the spread of the infection must have been from one person to another.

There are problems with this theory, however it is an interesting suggestion. For example, one researcher claims that there is not any evidence of quarantining being effective. Also, the buboes found on victims of the plague were what gave it its name. Despite this, their research brings up an interesting perspective. What if historians have been wrong about the plague for hundreds of years? Is it really possible that the plague was caused by a virus strain of ebola? Only more research can tell.


-Niles Case






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