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The Plague

I found a news story on CNN reporting a plague outbreak in Madagascar last year. According to the article, health officials have “seen an unexpected number of cases of pneumonic plague, which transmits more easily from person to person. Of the 684 cases reported as of October 12, 474 were pneumonic plague, 156 bubonic and 1 septicemic plague” ( Pneumonic plague is the only plague of the three that can spread via coughing or sneezing.

In the late Middle Ages, when the plague struck and killed ½ of the entire population of Europe, people were losing their minds. No one was safe from it, no matter their income or their bloodline, and according to Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer who described the onset of the Plague in The Decameron, the people were vastly different in how they handled the plague. Some hid away and avoided all luxury. Others, with the idea that they would die soon, began to live lavish lives in the hopes that they would die having at least enjoyed themselves. Everyone did whatever they wanted, partly because they were afraid of having lived unfulfilled lives and partly because so many of the religious figures and law enforcement were dead and the ones remaining were too few in number to really do anything. No one knew what was causing or spreading the plague. As a result, there were many superstitions and religious theories about where it came from. For example, large numbers of cats were killed by Europeans because of the belief that they were bad luck, which exacerbated the plague issue. The plague was predominantly spread by rats carrying infected fleas, and with a diminishing cat population, the plague-carrying rats spread even more. Boccaccio, like many others, believed that the “deadly pestilence came into the noble city of Florence because of the just wrath of God mandating punishment for our iniquitous ways” (Boccaccio, The Decameron).

The plague should matter to modern Minnesotans because it is still around, infecting people. Truthfully, I did not know that it is still around until I started researching. It does not have the same devastating effects today because their are antibiotics that can kill the plague bacteria, thankfully. But it is still there, and people should remember the effects it had on the world back in the day, and be amazed that what once wiped out half an entire continent can be treated now with antibiotics. It definitely amazed me.


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