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The Bubonic Plague: Crisis In Europe And Asia

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The Bubonic Plague: Crisis in Europe and Asia

There have been many natural disasters throughout history that have caused great damage physically, emotionally and mentally. The Bubonic Plague is considered by most to be the second worst disaster to have occurred throughout history. It all began in October 1348, when Genoese trading ships dropped anchor at the port of Messina, Sicily. The Ships had come from the Black Sea port of Kaffa (Truitt, 2001). The few of the crew members that were left alive carried with them a deadly disease so perilous that it would ultimately lead to death (Douglass, 1996). The sailors became infected when sick rats from Central Asia boarded their ships and the fleas that were feasting on the rats bit the sailors (Truitt, 2001). It was thought that the disease originated from the Far East and was spread along major trade routes. When it became clear that the ships from east carried the plague, Messina closed its port. The Ships were forced to seek harbor elsewhere around the Mediterranean, which allowed the disease to spread very quickly (Truitt, 2001). This would be the beginning of a very traumatic event that would affect all aspects of European society.

The Bubonic Plague generated from a bacterium called Yersina pestis, which is a one-celled organism that multiplies rapidly once inside its host and produces three types of symptoms, depending on how it is spread (Aberth, 2000). The bacterium that leads to the Bubonic Plague usually is found in the bloodstream of wild black rats. It is then posed to humans by fleas that feed on the blood of rats and then bite humans, in which the bacterium is passed into the human bloodstream (Aberth, 2000). It takes between four and six days for a person infected with the Bubonic Plague to exhibit symptoms (Truitt, 2001). The most common symptom is swellings known as buboes (hence bubonic) that appear in the lymph glands near the initial flea bite (Douglass, 1996). The buboes are red at first, but later turn a dark purple or black they eventually bust open oozing blood and pus (Douglass, 1996). Other symptoms may include a high fever, often causing delirium, violent headaches, subcutaneous bleeding, and damage to the nervous system caused from the bleeding, which leads to uncontrollable twitching and jerking (Aberth, 2000). There is also a foul odor that is associated with the excrement of blood, pus and sweat of those who are infected (Aberth, 2000). If untreated the disease kills between fifty and sixty percent of its victims within a week (Pruitt, 2001). A second form of the disease may occur once the infection enters the lungs. This is known as the pneumonic plague which is transferred by air instead of flea bites (Pruitt, 2001). This type of plague is highly contagious because it is airborne. When a diseased person coughs, the bacterium is dispersed into the air and invades the tissue and organs of those nearby (Pruitt, 2001). In nearly all cases of the pneumonic plague, the victim goes into a coma and dies within three days of contracting the disease (Pruitt, 2001). The third form of the plague is the most sudden and deadliest. It is called septicemic plague (Pruitt, 2001). Within hours of the bacteria getting into the bloodstream, the victim breaks out in a rash. Death follows within the next twenty-four hours. How exactly it is transmitted remains a mystery, for it acts so quickly that it leaves almost no symptoms (Pruitt, 2001). While the septicemic form of the plague is always fatal, it is also the rarest form of the disease (Pruitt, 2001).

It was in December of 1347 that the plague had reached the shores of Italy and southeastern France. It then traveled north to Paris and south to Spain by the summer of 1348 (Aberth, 2000). It then reached the southern coasts of England and Wales in the winter of 1348. Then it moved east to Germany and North to the Midlands of England by June 1349 (Alberth, 2000). The epidemic finally encompassed Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia by late 1349 and 1350. The only large are seemingly untouched was Bohemia and Poland, perhaps due to relatively few trading contacts there (Aberth, 2000). From the beginning the disease spread throughout England with exceptional speed and fatal consequences (Aberth, 2000). The effect was at its worst in the cities where overcrowding and primitive sanitation aided its spread (Douglass, 1996). On November first the plague reached London, and up to 30,000 of the 70,000 inhabitants succumbed to the epidemic (Aberth, 2000). Over the next two years the disease killed between 30 and 40 percent of the entire population. The population of England pre-plague was estimated to be around five million people, of these five million fatalities reached as high as two million (Aberth, 2000). The plague had devastating effects on England as well as throughout other European countries and Asia. By the end of 1350 the Bubonic Plague had finally subsided, but never really



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