Bubonic Plague (1110 words) Essay

Bubonic PlagueBubonic Plague Just mention the name and you will send shivers down the spine
of many people. There is no doubt that this disease was deadly. Deadly and gruesome to
watch. The death rate was 90% for those exposed to the bacterium. It was transmitted by
the fleas from infected Old English black rats. The symptoms were clear: swollen lymph
nodes (buboes, hence the name), high fever, and delirium. In the worst case, the lungs
became infected and the pneumonic form was spread from person to person by coughing,
sneezing, or simply talking. From the time of infection to death was less than one week.
There were three major epidemics – in the 6th, 14th, and 17th centuries. The death toll
was 137 million victims. As a result, the plague is considered to be the worst epidemic of
all time
Black Death Plague is a term applied randomly in the Middle Ages to all fatal
epidemic diseases, but now restricted to an acute, infectious, contagious disease of
rodents and humans, caused by a short, thick bacillus, Yersinia pestis. In humans, plague
occurs in three forms: bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septicemic plague.
Bubonic plague is the best-known form and is so called because it is characterized by the
appearance of buboes, in the groin or armpit or on the neck. Bubonic plague is
transmitted by the bite of any of numerous insects that are normally parasitic on rodents,
and that seek new hosts when the original host dies. The most important of these insects
is the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis, which is parasitic on the brown rat. Untreated bubonic
plague is fatal in 30 to 75 percent of all cases. The Black Death, the name later given to
the plague, ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, taking a great toll of life. Modern
research confirms the estimate of the chronicler Jean Froissart that about one-third of the
population died. Originating in China and Turkestan, the plague was transmitted to
Europeans when a Kipchak army catapulted plague-infested corpses into the town. The
Plague spread from the Mediterranean ports, affecting Sicily, North Africa, Italy, Spain,
France , Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, and England, and Scandinavia and the
Baltic lands.There were recurrences in 1361-63, 1369-71, 1374-75, 1390, and 1400. In
bubonic plague, the first symptoms are headache, nausea, vomiting, aching joints, and a
general feeling of ill health. The lymph nodes of the groin or, less commonly, of the
armpit or neck, suddenly become painful and swollen. The temperature, accompanied by
shivering, rises to between 101? and 105? F. The pulse rate and respiration rate are
increased, and the victim becomes exhausted and apathetic. The buboes swell until they
approximate a chicken egg in size. In nonfatal cases, the temperature begins to fall in
about five days, and approaches normal in about two weeks. In fatal cases, death results
in about four days. The purple color, which appears in all plague victims during their last
hours, is due to respiratory failure; the popular name Black Death that is applied to the
disease is derived from this symptom. Many preventive measures, such as sanitation,
killing of rats, and prevention of the transport of rats in ships arriving from ports in which
the disease is endemic, are effective in reducing the incidence of plague. Famine, which
reduces resistance to the disease, results in spread of plague. Individuals who have
contracted the disease are isolated, put to bed, and fed fluids and easily digestible foods.
Sedatives are used to reduce pain and to quiet delirium. During World War II, scientists
using sulfa drugs were able to produce cures of plague; subsequently, streptomycin and
tetracycline were found to be more effective in controlling the disease.

The coming of the Black Death, when in just two years perhaps one third to one
half of Europe’s population was destroyed, marks a watershed in Medieval and
Renaissance European History. Bubonic plague had been absent from Western Europe for
nearly a millenium when it appeared in 1348. The reaction was immediate and
devastating. Up to two thirds of the population of many of the major European cities
succumbed to the plague in the first two years. Government, trade and commerce virtually
came to a halt. Even more devastating to Europeans, there was hardly a generation which
did not experience a local, regional or pan-European epidemic for the next two hundred
years. There was virtually no aspect of European society that was not affected by the
coming of plague and by its duration. At the most basic level, recurrent plague tended to
skim off significant portions of the children born between infestations of plague,
dampening economic and demographic growth in most parts of Europe until the late
seventeenth century. The responses of Europeans are often treated as irrational or
superstitious. Yet medical tracts, moral treatises and papal proclamations make clear that
for most Europeans there were, within the medieval world view, rational explanations for
what was happening. Plague stimulated chroniclers, poets and authors, and physicians to
write about what might have caused the plague and how the plague affected the
population at large the framing story of Boccaccio’s Decameron is merely the most
famous of the writings. Nonetheless, in the wake of the first infestations there were
attacks on women lepers and Jews who were thought either to have deliberately spread
the plague or, because of their innate dishonor, to have polluted society and brought on
God’s vengeance. The violence against outsiders demonstrated, in a tragically negative
manner, the nature and the limits of citizenship in Europe. This was a society which
defined itself as Christian and recurrent plague changed religious practice, if not belief.
Christians had long venerated saints as models of the godly life and as mediators before
God, in this case an angry and vengeful one. A whole new series of plague saints (like
St. Roch) came into existence along with new religious brotherhoods and shrines
dedicated to protecting the population from plague. The recurrence of plague also
affected the general understanding of public health. Beginning in Italy in the 1350s there
were new initiatives aimed at raising the level of public sanitation and governmental
regulation of public life. And, finally, by the sixteenth century a debate over the causes of
plague spread in the medical community as old corruption theories inherited from Greece
and Rome were replaced by ideas of contagion. The story of plague in Renaissance
society is not merely a medical, religious or economic subject. To properly understand the
impact of plague it is necessary to consider almost all aspects of society, from art and
music to science.
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