How Views on Black Death Have Changed

Black death is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis which killed approximately “one-third of Europe’s population” in the 1300’s.  According to outbreaknewstoday, “It is found in animals throughout the world, most commonly rats but other rodents like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, rabbits and voles. Fleas typically serve as the vector of plague. Human cases have been linked to the domestic cats and dogs that brought infected fleas into the house.”  Furthermore, “People can also get infected through direct contact with an infected animal, through inhalation and in the case of pneumonic plague, person to person.”

A man known as Henry Knighton, canon at the abbey of St Mary of the Meadows, Leicester, gave a firsthand account of how the disease spread through Europe through a letter.  Knighton notes in his letter, “dreadful pestilence penetrated the sea coast by Southampton and came to Bristol, and there almost the whole population of the town perished, as if it had been seized by sudden death.”  According to Knighton, when the Scots heard of the black death epidemic they, “suspected that it had come about through the vengeance of God.”

These two sources relate because both give an account of the plague, however they raise an interesting issue of how the religious viewed the plague in the 14th century versus what we know to be scientific fact today.  The account by Henry Knighton clearly suggests people believed god was making the people pay for their sins, however as we’ve learned through modern science the disease is actually a deadly bacteria.

So why should a Minnesotan care?  Based on the article by outbreaknewstoday, “Health officials in Madagascar are reporting the deaths of two individuals from two separate municipalities of Miarinarivo district last month from bubonic plague.”  Now Madagascar is a long ways from us, however there’s no doubt this epidemic can still happen.  What we should be aware of is, “a study published in  The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Sept 2013, 21,725 cases of human plague reported globally during the last decade (2000-2009), including 1,612 deaths.”  Now that’s globally so it isn’t quite that scary, however according to a recent CNN article there have been 11 cases of the plague in the US.  Modern medicine can treat this disease is given time, however Minnesotan’s must be aware of the possible risks this old epidemic can cause.


Henry Knighton Letter

Outbreaknewstoday article     (Link to Twitter account who led me to this)

CNN article


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