Saturday, January 08, 2022

Plagues and Pandemics (5) Black Death

The Black Death was a resurgence of bubonic plague that hit Asia, Europe and North Africa from 1346 to 1353. It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, causing the death of 75–200 million people. Several factors contributed to this pandemic.

  • An expansion of shipping and trade around the Mediterranean Sea provided a way for rats to travel and spread.

  • Europe was becoming more densely populated again.

  • Land was being cleared of forest and farms were established in many places where they had disappeared after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

  • The climate deteriorated in the 14th century.

The death rate for bubonic infections transmitted by rat fleas varied from 30 to 90 percent. The best estimate is that one third of the population died. The economic consequences were severe. The trauma and fear were intense. This uncertainty probably contributed to the emergence of the Protestant Reformation.

The plague did not disappear after its first massive attack. Instead, similar plagues continued at irregular intervals and with varying patterns of intensity in different places.

The incidence of the bubonic plague began to decline in the 17th century.

  • Quarantine regulations were effective in halting the spread. People from infected areas were refused entry to towns and villages. Ships with infected sailors were refused entry to ports.

  • Wood shortages led to stone and brick house construction and tiles began to replace thatched rooves, which made it more difficult for rats to live close to humans.

  • The grey rat spread across Europe. It preferred to live in a burrow in the ground instead of infesting roofs and house walls as the black rat had done. This increased distance between humans and rats made it more difficult for the fleass that transmitted the disease to spread to humans.

I note that when a serious plague struck Europe in both the sixth and fourteenth centuries, Christians assumed that the end of the world was at hand. In both cases, they were wrong.

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