Bubonic Plague


     The Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, had many negative as well as positive
effects on medieval Europe. While being one of the worst and deadliest diseases
in the history of the world, it indirectly helped Europe break grounds for some
of the basic necessities for life today. The Black Death erupted in the Gobi

Desert in the late 1320s, but one really knows why. The plague bacillus was
alive and active long before that; as Europe itself had suffered an epidemic in
the 6th century. But the disease had lain relatively dormant in the succeeding
centuries. It is believed that the climate of Earth began to cool in the 14th
century, and perhaps this so-called little Ice Age had something to do with it
becoming more active than normal (Knox 2). Whatever the reason, we know that the
outbreak began there and spread outward. While it did go west, it spread in
every direction, and the Asian nations suffered as cruelly as anywhere. In

China, for example, the population dropped from around 125 million to 90 million
over the course of the 14 century. The plague moved along the caravan routes
toward the West. By 1345 it had made itís way to the lower Volga River. By
early 1347 it was in Constantinople. It hit Alexandria in the autumn of that
year, and by spring 1348, a thousand people a day were dying there. In Cairo,

Egypt, the count was seven times that. The disease traveled by ship as readily
as by land and it was no sooner in the eastern Mediterranean than it was in the
western end as well. Already in 1347, the plague had hit Sicily. By winter the
plague had reached mainland Italy. By January of 1348, the plague was in

Marseilles, and it reached Paris in the spring of 1348. By September of 1348 the

Bubonic Plague had worked its way into England. Bubonic plague was caused by the
bacteria Yersinia Pestis. It is an organism most usually carried by rodents.

Fleas infest the rodents (rats, but other rodents as well), and these fleas move
freely over to human hosts. The flea then regurgitates the blood from the rat
into the human, infecting the human. The rat dies. The human dies. The fleaís
life is not effected (Gregg 126). Symptoms include high fevers, aching limbs and
vomiting of blood. The most noticeable characteristic is a swelling of the lymph
nodes. Lymph nodes are found in the neck, armpits and groin. The swellings are
easily visible and its blackish coloring gives the disease its name: The Black

Death. The swellings continue to expand until they eventually burst, with death
following soon after. The whole process, from first symptoms of fever and aches,
to final expiration, lasts only three or four days. The swiftness of the
disease, the terrible pain, the grotesque appearance of the victims, all served
to make the plague especially terrifying. Bubonic plague is usually fatal,
though not inevitably so. Historians have been hard pressed to explain the
extraordinary mortality of the 1348 outbreak. Their best guess is that there was
more than one variety of plague at work in Europe. There are two other varieties
of plague: septicaemic plague, which attacks the blood, and pneumonic plague,
which attacks the lungs. The pneumonic plague is especially dangerous as it can
be transmitted through the air. Both of these two are nearly 100% fatal. It
seems likely that some form of pneumonic plague was at work alongside the
bubonic plague in those awful years.