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The Black Plague

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The Black Death: Bubonic Plague

Perhaps no epidemic has affected the human race like the Bubonic Plague. During the late 1330's the Bubonic Plague, often referred to as the Black Death, rose from the Gobi Desert. From this region between Northern China and Mongolia, the pandemic spread east to Europe. The next five years would change the entire landscape of the once thriving medieval society, leaving the few survivors empty and pleading for a solution.

The Bubonic Plague originated in Asia and was carried to Europe by way of westbound trade routes. Before the plague moved west bound, it struck the warriors of Khan wiping them out but as they began to decamp from their position, Janibeg khan catapulted the infested corpses over the walls hoping to hit enemy lines with the devastating disease. Unknown to man at the time, this ultimate cause of this disease was a bacterium called Bacillus. The bacillus bacteria first infected fleas, which with time obstructed the digestive tract of the flea, causing it to starve. In a frantic fight to survive, the flea would try to feed off of rodents and mammals. These infected rodent and human carriers would then travel across the two continents, bringing with it a disease that would soon kill millions. Once arrived in Europe, poor sanitation allowed the Bubonic Plague to run through towns relentlessly. Poor sanitation consisted of litter and feces that were thrown into the streets and covered in hay. These actions of disposal allowed the plague to spread more quickly since rodents were attracted to the garbage which created a breeding ground for fleas. Cramped living spaces made it easier for both rats and fleas to travel from place to place infecting the humans that inhabited these living quarters. Even though the pneumonic plague was not as prevalent as bubonic plague, this highly contagious form of the plague easily spread through the cramped living quarters, infecting all that lived in that area.

Humans were affected by the disease physically in a number of ways. Once bitten by a disease carrying flea or possibly from a rodent, humans typically died within five days of the first onset of symptoms. The initial symptoms were fever and swelling of the lymph nodes. These lymph nodes would become quite large and pronounced and over time turn a black color which in large part was the reason behind the name "Black" Plague. By the third day, victims would usually experience high fever, diarrhea, delirium, and black splotches. These black splotches would appear on the tips of fingers, the nose, and anywhere there was a concentration of capillaries where the blood was infected; these black splotches were caused by the body's smaller blood vessels rupturing, causing blood to leak profusely, which became visible beneath the skin. By day five, the lymph nodes would become so swollen that they would burst, spewing out pus. By this point the victim would be dead or would die soon thereafter.

The horrible sight of mutilated bodies would litter the streets leading to the chain reaction that set forth. The social effects of the Bubonic Plague were immense. Those who were wealthy took what they could and fled the devastated areas. Those who were less fortunate were forced to stay behind. The plague caused many to become desperate for their lives, leaving them no choice but to leave the sick. Family and friends were torn apart, leaving many to fend for themselves; orphaned children were left to care for themselves, most of which would follow the same fate as their late parents. Many monasteries were flooded with the sick and only a few stayed behind to care for them. Only a scarce amount of physicians were brave enough to resume their duties. Without a cure faith in religion and in medical practice grew thin. Chaos and terror ran rampant throughout Europe; this was indeed a time of complete social disorder.

Predictably, the economic effects correlated very closely to Europe's social atmosphere. Trade became scarce as town inhabitance fled, taking their wealth with them. Skilled workers such as blacksmiths and woodworkers were in high demand; however the millions of deaths caused the supply of these workers to dwindle. Peasants revolted, demanding fairness and decency in the workplace. Agriculture oriented systems, which had dominated life during the Middle ages slowly failed. Farms and entire villages died out or were abandoned as the few survivors decided not to stay on. This also affected the financial business men because those he lent money to and were in debt had become ill and died, along with his family, leaving the collector no money to collect from. However, since the plague depleted the population, many skilled workers were in high demand allowing higher pay. Also, the social levels were panning out as many serfs broke out of their standings and started working independently. The economy was decreasing more rapidly than growing but the slight fluctuation of economic improvement proved to be an advantage for those who survived the plague. Competition was severely reduced, making it easier for those who had previously been squeezed out of the market to regain a foothold in their past profession.

For those who survived ensuring that they did not fall victim to the plague was of utmost priority and so, many preventative measures were taken up. Besides fleeing the area, many turned to various techniques of warding off the disease. The rich ingested pearls and gold while others both rich and poor alike turned to herbs for a cure. Pearls and gold were rare and thought to contain curative properties and herbs were used for medicinal use. Herbs were taken in many different forms such as therapeutically and by way of ingestion; herbs helped against many illnesses, so the same thought was applied to the plague. However, no matter how much money they spent on these items, they had yet to find a cure; everything they did seemed hopeless. These harsh times tested the resistance of the Middle Ages which in the end showed that the middle ages would not last. As time passed, the personal hygiene of Europeans improved after the Middle ages but while many people may, in fact, have started bathing more after the fourteenth century, rats and fleas which are central in spreading Plague did not adopt better standards of health. Seasons allowed the plague to slow down, the colder the climate, the less was seen of the plague and vice versa. This allowed the population to recuperate.

Another blow to the plague's infectious spread came in September of 1666 when a fire broke out in the early morning of the day. The close compact quarters of the town buildings allowed the fire to spread easily and rapidly. Fire response although somewhat quick, would be stymied by the lack of hydrants in the sectors of the town. The flames,



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