The Modern Day Black Death


It’s common knowledge to American adults that there was a great epidemic that killed a good chuck of the human population around the time of the renaissance, we call it the black death. Along with that, it’s also commonly believed that this epidemic got its name from a symptom that caused black spots to form on an infected persons skin. The article “Contesting the Cause and Severity of the Black Death,” says that’s not actually true, it was originally named the pestilence and wasn’t given the name ‘Black Death’ until the sixteenth century and is used metaphorically to symbolize a dark time (Noymer 616). Another misconception is that the Black Death was a consequence to relieve pressure off the population and the exact reason for the epidemic is still under debate.

The Black Death is known as, the plague, because it was the worst of them all, even though there were several great plagues. The 1918-19 influenza killed more people than the Black Death because it was worldwide, while the Black Death was mostly Europe and Western Asia and the twentieth century had a larger population than the fourteenth. The Black Death however killed a third of the population and influenza killed only 2.5 percent of the population (Noymer 618). The Black Death was the worst plague we have experienced thus far.

Plague is a disease that comes from animals to humans. The Black Death was caused by a biological chain reaction between rats, fleas, and humans. The bacteria started in rodents and when a flea feed on one with a higher concentration, it blocked the fleas stomach with a formation of a solid mass of the bacteria and caused the flea to regurgitate (Noymer 619). When the flea regurgitates, some of the solid concentrated bacteria entered the rodent bloodstream and killed the rodents. Thus, the fleas then left to other rodent populations or even directly to humans.

In modern times, the CDC has kept tabs on the disease and the most recent outbreaks of the Black Death are during the Vietnam War (1960s – 1970s) in southern Africa and Madagascar, which is where 95 percent of the reported outbreaks have occurred (Stenseth, 2008). It’s now treatable with antibiotics but if left untreated the possibility of death is 50-60 percent (Noymer 619).  With the plague being treatable it’s not much of a concern and most people in the United States don’t realize it’s still around.

Just recently with the release of the new Beauty and the Beast in theaters, there has been some talk about the Black Death. In the movie, Belle’s mother was given a backstory on why she was no longer in the picture and it turns out she died in Paris from the plague. WUSA says parents were concerned when their kids were asking questions about it, asking what it was and were horrified when one 12 year-old said she didn’t ever want to see one of the doctors masks again, because she said it would give her nightmares (Bailey 7). The parents say that the Black Death is too dark and scary for their children and shouldn’t have been put in the Disney movie. If that is the case, educators should be waiting till almost high school level to introduce the plague and parents should monitor what their kids see better, though personally, I believe kids should be taught about it, just not given extensive knowledge like the information in Noymer’s article.


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