Bubonic Plague (1125 words) Essay

Bubonic Plague
The Bubonic plague is a contagious disease, which can reach epidemic
proportions, transmitted to humans by the fleas of an infected rat. The most
telltale sign of the plague is the enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or
neck. The name for the Bubonic plague originated from the name for the swollen
lymph nodes: Buboes. The disease is also called the Black Death. The reason for
this nickname might have been the black spots on the skin or the purplish tint
on an infected person’s skin. The Black Death is known as the most fatal
disease of the middle ages. The bacteria called Yersinia Pestis causes the
disease. The whole cycle begins with an infected rat. A rat flea (Xenopsylla
Cheopis) bites the rat and the bacteria fills the stomach of the flea completely
full. This makes it so the flea cannot digest any blood. The flea becomes so
overwhelmingly hungry that it sucks blood into its already full stomach. This
causes the flea to vomit, thus spreading the bacteria. The first symptoms of
infection are headaches, nausea, vomiting, and aching joints. As the disease
progresses, enlarged lymph nodes, chills, high fever (101 to 105 degrees), and
prostration occur. The bacteria may also invade the lungs in a form of the
plague, pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is rapidly fatal and can be
transmitted from person to person. Death may occur within about four days for
bubonic plague, less for pneumonic plague. The mortality rate for pneumonic
plague is nearly 100%, while bubonic plague is 50-75%. The first appearances of
this disease may have occurred in 542 AD, but the first major outbreak did not
occur until the 14th century. In Europe, this outbreak killed one third of
Europe’s population–25 million people–in only 5 years. In the late 1340s,
native people of China began dying from a mysterious illness. A couple years
later, several Italian merchants returned from a trip to the Black Sea, ill from
this mysterious disease. Rats escaped from the ship and the plague rapidly
spread to the city, then the countryside, and eventually the majority of Europe.


Death was everywhere; in some cities, the dead outnumbered the living. The
plague caused drastic changes for many people. Because of all the deaths, there
were serious labor shortages. Workers demanded higher wages, but landlords
refused. These conflicts caused peasant revolts in England, France, Belgium, and
Italy. Even the whole idea of death changed. Death was no longer represented by
heavenly beings, but rather as an elderly woman with a black cloak and wild,
snakelike hair. It was during the Bubonic plague that anger toward the Roman
Catholic Church intensified and the persecution of Jews intensified. As the
number of church clergy increased, many individuals began to suspect the Church
officials were responsible for the spread of the Bubonic Plague. With the goal
of dispelling this new fear of the clergy, a group of people called”flagellants” emerged. They placed blame for the spread of the plague on the
sins of men and women. They taught that God was punishing these sins with the
plague. The group traveled from town to town, congregating in the center of the
town. Participants would sit in a circle and beat themselves with a scourge. A
scourge was a wooden stick with three or four leather pieces attached to one
end. There was a sharp iron spike about an inch long at the end of each leather
whip. However, the flagellants’ “cure” failed to help anyone. Instead,
their practice of traveling town to town actually helped spread the disease. In
1349, Pope Clement VI declared them to be heretical. Unfortunately, while most
of the flagellants’ ideas died out, one of them didn’t. The flagellants had
helped to spread the belief that the Jews infected the city’s wells with
contaminated vials. Accusations against the Jews were bad enough, but they
became worse when it was discovered that the Jews did not get their water from
the city wells. (Actually, because of kosher laws, the Jews drew their water
from country springs.) In 1348, eleven Jews were charged with contaminating a
well in a German town. They were tortured and forced to confess falsely. After
this trial, in other cities, Jews were banned from the town or herded into barns
and burned alive. Some were even burned at the stake. In addition to the idea
that the Jews were to blame, there were several strange theories about how the
plague was spread. A man named Galen made one theory. He claimed that the
disease was spread by poisonous vapors. These vapors supposedly came from the
swamps. People were advised to avoid marshy regions or at least close up their
homes and stay inside. They were also advised to try and keep cool because heat
was thought to be another source of the plague. People were told to wash their
hands and feet, but never their bodies. Washing the body would open pores, and
the pores were supposedly another place the disease could enter. Foul smelling
air was another thing thought to spread the plague. People were not supposed to
sleep on their backs because the vapors could get to their nose more easily, and
many people walked around carrying flowers in their noses. Large bonfires were
lit to make sure the poisonous vapors didn’t get to people. Even though death
from the Bubonic Plague was extremely likely, physicians still tried to help
sick patients. They would bleed the heart hoping that they could get the
overheated blood out before it could circulate throughout the whole body. They
also bled the buboes to try to heal the infected areas. All this bleeding only
resulted in the patients becoming weaker. Now a day, we know that using
antibiotics, such as tetracycline and streptomycin can help cure the disease. We
also know that the plague spread very rapidly because of bad sanitation. There
were piles of trash all over the cities, because there was no regular pick-up
day. Leftovers from meals were left on the ground for animals, rats accidentally
included. There was no running water, so bathing was a rarity. The Black Death
continued to terrorize people for a long time. People were hopeful in the winter
when the fleas were dormant, but the terror would reoccur in the spring. The
cycle finally ended in the 1600s, centuries after the outbreak began. Since
then, there have still been a few cases of the plague. During World War II, the
Japanese formed a special biological warfare division. They worked on a way to
spread the plague to the Chinese. They tried flying over cities and releasing
plague-infected fleas over the towns. When crewmembers accidentally became
infected from the fleas, the Japanese changed their method to packing the fleas
into a bomb before dropping them. In the American and Canadian west there have
even been several cases. In 1924 in the United States there was a small
epidemic, with 32 cases. The numbers of human cases of this plague have
increased since 1960, because the environment is not staying clean. The only way
to stop this is to start picking up the environment. Keep yourself and your home
clean. Don’t let history repeat itself!

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