The Plague

The Black Death was a large bacterial outbreak during the 14th century.  Contrary to what many believe, the plague is still present today, and there are still minor outbreaks in some countries.

According to Reference, the plague arrived in Europe during the year 1347 (Reference). The disease originated from the trade ships that had docked in Italy.  Many of the sailors aboard the ship were found dead, and fever overcame living. They were unable to keep food down and delirious.  The sailors were covered in black boils which gave the illness its name: the “Black Death.” Authorities tried to rid the harbor of the disease-ridden ships, but it was too late.  Within the next five years, the plague killed more than 20 million people in Europe–almost one third of the continents population (Reference).

According to the article Black Death, it was many years later that scientists found out that Black Death was spread by a bacillus called Yersina pestis. The bacillus traveled from person to person through the air, as well as through the bite of infected fleas and rats.  Both pests were at home aboard ships of all kinds–which is how the deadly plague made its way through one European port city after another” (Black Death).

By the early 1350’s the plague had run its course but it reappeared every few generations for centuries.  However, according to the article Plague, “as a bacterial disease, plague can be treated with antibiotics, and can be prevented from spreading by prompt identification, treatment and management of human cases”(Plague). But even with modern sanitation and public-health practices, the disease has not been eliminated.

The most recent plague epidemics have been reported in India during the first half of the 20th century, and in Vietnam during wartime in the 1960s and 1970s. Plague is now commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, areas which now account for over 95% of reported cases (Plague).  Although, these countries are from the United States, the plague could still pose a potential threat.

Yesinia Pestis, the bacillus that caused Black Death, has an extremely high mortality rate if untreated.  It has been used as a weapon of biological warfare for centuries. Some warfare strategies have included catapulting corpses over city walls, dropping infected fleas from airplanes, and aerosolizing the bacteria during the Cold War (Plague). Recently, plague raised concern as an important national security threat because of its potential for use by terrorists.

The three sources I used were Reference, The CDC, and History.  All three sites provided information about the disease in general, but the CDC provided information on the modern plague and how it can still be a threat even to the contemporary Minnesotan.





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