Manual Encyclopedia of the Black Death

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This encyclopedia provides interdisciplinary, cross-referenced entries that document the effect of the plague on Western society across the four centuries of the second plague pandemic, balancing medical history and technical matters with historical, cultural, social, and political factors. Encyclopedia of the Black Death is the first A—Z encyclopedia to cover the second plague pandemic, balancing medical history and technical matters with historical, cultural, social, and political factors and effects in Europe and the Islamic world from — It also bookends the period with entries on Biblical plagues and the Plague of Justinian, as well as modern-era material regarding related topics, such as the work of Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, the Third Plague Pandemic of the mids, and plague in the United States.

Unlike previous encyclopedic works about this subject that deal broadly with infectious disease and its social or historical contexts, including the author's own, this interdisciplinary work synthesizes much of the research on the plague and related medical history published in the last decade in accessible, compellingly written entries. Controversial subject areas such as whether "plague" was bubonic plague and the geographic source of plague are treated in a balanced and unbiased manner.

Joseph P. His skill at humanistic analysis reaches a height in such topics as virgin soil disease, medical education, remedies, and repopulation. Overall, the comprehensive A to Z entries, timeline, maps and illustrations, bibliography, glossary, and detailed index provide high school, public, and college and university libraries with a valuable tool for understanding one of Earth's most terrifying catastrophes. Overall, this is a work which I think expands knowledge of the plague, not just during the period of the official Black Death, but also by providing the context of all three pandemics, how each one relates to the other, and how society, biomedicine, public health and politics respond to these crises, and developed as a result.

This book would be an excellent addition to academic e-collections, of particular interest to humanities students of all disciplines, and historians. Scientists studying the history of medicine and biomedicine may also find this useful. In the Middle Ages in Europe, massive plague epidemics killed millions of people. Plague has not been eliminated. It can still be found in Africa, Asia, and South America. Today, plague is rare in the United States.

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The time between being infected and developing symptoms is typically 2 to 8 days. But the time can be as short as 1 day for pneumonic plague. Risk factors for plague include a recent flea bite and exposure to rodents, especially rabbits, squirrels, or prairie dogs, or scratches or bites from infected domestic cats. Symptoms include:. People with the plague need to be treated right away.

If treatment is not received within 24 hours of when the first symptoms occur, the risk of death increases. Antibiotics such as streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin are used to treat plague. Oxygen, intravenous fluids, and respiratory support are usually also needed. People with pneumonic plague must be kept away from caregivers and other patients. People who have had contact with anyone infected by pneumonic plague should be watched carefully and given antibiotics as a preventive measure.

Almost everyone with septicemic or pneumonic plague dies if not treated right away. Call your health care provider if you develop plague symptoms after exposure to fleas or rodents. Contact your provider if you live in or have visited an area where plague occurs. The black rat Rattus rattus was originally introduced from Asia to Europe by trade, but was subsequently displaced and succeeded throughout Europe by the bigger Norwegian rat, or brown rat Rattus norvegicus.

The brown rat was not as prone to transmit the germ-bearing fleas to humans in large die-offs due to different rat ecology Appleby, ; Slack, The dynamic complexities of rat ecology, herd immunity in that reservoir, interaction with human ecology, secondary transmission routes between humans with or without fleas, human herd immunity, and changes in each might explain the eruption, dissemination, and re-eruptions of the plague that continued for centuries until its even more unexplained disappearance.

The three forms of plague brought an array of signs and symptoms to those infected. Bubonic plague refers to the painful lymph node swellings called buboes, septicaemic plague is a form of blood poisoning, and pneumonic plague is an airborne plague that forms a first attack on the lungs. The classic sign of bubonic plague was the appearance of buboes in the groin and armpits, which ooze pus and blood. Victims underwent damage to the skin and underlying tissue until they were covered in dark blotches. This symptom is called acral necrosis. Most victims died within four to seven days after infection.

Encyclopedia of the Black Death - ABC-CLIO - Literati by Credo

When the plague reached Europe, it first struck port cities and then followed the trade routes, both by sea and land. The pneumonic plague was the second most commonly seen form during the Black Death, with a mortality rate of 90 to 95 percent. Symptoms included slimy sputum tinted with blood. As the disease progressed, sputum became free flowing and bright red. Septicaemic plague was the most rare of the three forms, with mortality close to one hundred percent.

Symptoms were high fevers and skin discoloration to deep shades of purple due to DIC Disseminated intravascular coagulation. Recent scientific and historical investigations have led some researchers to doubt the long-held belief that the Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague. For example, in , Gunnar Karlsson pointed out that the Black Death killed between half and two-thirds of the population of Iceland, although there were no rats in Iceland at this time. Rats were accidentally introduced in the nineteenth century, and have never spread beyond a small number of urban areas attached to seaports.

In the fourteenth century there were no urban settlements in Iceland. Iceland was unaffected by the later plagues which are known to have been spread by rats. In addition, it was previously argued that tooth pulp tissue from a fourteenth century plague cemetery in Montpellier tested positive for molecules associated with Yersinia pestis.

However, such a finding was never confirmed in any other cemetery, nor were any DNA samples recovered. In September a team of researchers from Oxford University tested teeth from 66 skeletons found in fourteenth century mass graves. The remains showed no genetic trace of Yersinia pestis, and the researchers suspect that the Montpellier study was flawed.

In , Graham Twigg published The Black Death: A Biological Reappraisal, in which he argued that the climate and ecology of Europe and particularly England made it nearly impossible for rats and fleas to have transmitted bubonic plague. Combining information on the biology of Rattus rattus, Rattus norvegicus, and the common fleas Xenopsylla cheopis and Pulex irritans with modern studies of plague epidemiology, particularly in India, where the Rattus rattus is a native species and conditions are nearly ideal for plague to be spread, Twigg concludes that it would have been nearly impossible for Yersinia pestis to have been the causative agent of the beginning of the plague, let alone its explosive spread across all of Europe.

Twigg also shows that the common theory of entirely pneumonic spread does not hold up. He proposes, based on a re-examination of the evidence and symptoms, that the Black Death may actually have been an epidemic of pulmonary anthrax caused by Bacillus anthracis. In , epidemiologists Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan from Liverpool University proposed the theory that the Black Death might have been caused by an Ebola-like virus, not a bacterium. Their rationale was that this plague spread much faster and the incubation period was much longer than other confirmed Yersinia pestis plagues.

A longer period of incubation will allow carriers of the infection to travel farther and infect more people than a shorter one.

When the primary vector is humans, as opposed to birds, this is of great importance. Studies of English church records indicate an unusually long incubation period in excess of 30 days, which could account for the rapid spread, topping at about 3 miles per day. The plague also appeared in areas of Europe where rats were uncommon, such as Iceland. Epidemiological studies suggest the disease was transferred between humans which happens rarely with Yersinia pestis and very rarely for Bacillus anthracis , and some genes that determine immunity to Ebola-like viruses are much more widespread in Europe than in other parts of the world.

More recently the researchers have published computer modeling Journal of Medical Genetics, March demonstrating how the Black Death has made around 10 percent of Europeans resistant to HIV. In a similar vein, historian Norman F.

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Cantor suggests, in his book In the Wake of the Plague, that the Black Death might have been a combination of pandemics including a form of anthrax, a cattle murrain. He cites many forms of evidence including reported disease symptoms not in keeping with the known effects of either bubonic or pneumonic plague, the discovery of anthrax spores in a plague pit in Scotland, and the fact that meat from infected cattle was known to have been sold in many rural English areas prior to the onset of the plague.

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It is notable that the means of infection varied widely, from human-to-human contact as in Iceland rare for plague and cutaneous Bacillus anthracis to infection in the absence of living or recently-dead humans which speaks against most viruses , as in Sicily. Also, diseases with similar symptoms were generally not distinguished between in that period, at least not in the Christian world; Chinese and Muslim medical records can be expected to yield better information which, however, only pertains to the specific diseases which affected these areas.

Still, the majority of historians support the theory that the bubonic plague caused the black death, so counterarguments have been developed. The uncharacteristically rapid spread of the plague could be due to respiratory droplet transmission, and low levels of immunity in that period's European population. Historical examples of pandemics of other diseases in populations without previous exposure, such as smallpox and tuberculosis transmitted by aerosol amongst indigenous peoples of the Americas , show that the low levels of inherited adaptation to the disease cause the first epidemic to spread faster and to be far more virulent than later epidemics among the descendants of survivors.

Also, the plague returned again and again and was regarded as the same disease through succeeding centuries into modern times when the Yersinia pestis bacterium was identified. Information about the death toll varies widely by area and from source to source. Approximately 25 million deaths occurred in Europe alone, with many others occurring in northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Estimates of the demographic impact of the plague in Asia are based on both population figures during this time and estimates of the disease's toll on population centers.

The initial outbreak of plague in the Chinese province of Hubei in claimed up to 90 percent of the population, an estimated 5 million people. During —, outbreaks in eight distinct areas throughout the Mongol-Chinese empires may have caused the death of two-thirds of China's population, often yielding an estimate of 25 million deaths.


It is estimated that between one-third and two-thirds of the European population died from the outbreak between and Contemporary observers estimated the toll to be one-third e. Jean Froissart , but modern estimates range from one-half to two-thirds of the population. As many as 25 percent of all villages were depopulated, mostly the smaller communities, as the few survivors fled to larger towns and cities.

The Black Death hit the culture of towns and cities disproportionately hard, although rural areas where 90 percent of the population lived were also significantly affected. A few rural areas, such as Eastern Poland and Lithuania, had such low populations and were so isolated that the plague made little progress. Parts of Hungary and the Brabant region in modern Belgium , Hainaut, Limbourg, and Santiago de Compostella, were unaffected for unknown reasons. Some historians have assumed that the presence of sanguine groups in the local population helped them resist the disease, although these regions would be touched by the second plague burst in — and later during the numerous resurgences of the plague.

Other areas that escaped the plague were isolated mountainous regions e. Larger cities were the worst off, as population densities and close living quarters made disease transmission easier. Cities were also strikingly filthy, infested with lice, fleas, and rats, and subject to diseases related to malnutrition and poor hygiene. According to journalist John Kelly, " w oefully inadequate sanitation made medieval urban Europe so disease-ridden, no city of any size could maintain its population without a constant influx of immigrants from the countryside" Kelly, The influx of new citizens facilitated the movement of the plague between communities and contributed to the longevity of the plague within larger communities.

In Italy, Florence's population decreased from , inhabitants in to 50, in In some regions, two-thirds of the population was annihilated. In the town of Givry, in the Bourgogne region in France, the friar, who used to note 28 to 29 funerals a year, recorded deaths in , half of them in September. About half of Perpignan's population died within several months only two of the eight physicians survived the plague.

England lost 70 percent of its population, which passed from 7 million to 2 million in All social classes were affected, although the lower classes, living together in unhealthy places, were most vulnerable. Alfonso XI of Castile was the only royal victim of the plague, but Peter IV of Aragon lost his wife, his daughter, and a niece in six months.

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Furthermore, resurgences of the plague in later years must also be counted: in — the "little mortality" , in —, —, , , etc. The plague was not eradicated until the nineteenth century. The precise demographic impact of the disease in the Middle East is very difficult to calculate. Mortality was particularly high in rural areas, including significant areas of Palestine and Syria. Many surviving rural people fled, leaving their fields and crops, and entire rural provinces are recorded as being totally depopulated.

Surviving records in some cities reveal a devastating number of deaths. The outbreak in Gaza left an estimated ten thousand people dead, while Aleppo recorded a death rate of five hundred a day during the same year.

Black Death Essay

In Damascus, at the disease's peak in September and October , one thousand deaths were recorded every day, with overall mortality estimated at between 25 and 38 percent. Syria lost a total of four hundred thousand people by the time the epidemic subsided in March In contrast to some higher mortality estimates in Asia and Europe, scholars believe the mortality rate in the Middle East was less than one-third of the total population, with higher rates in selected areas.

The governments of Europe had no apparent response to the crisis because no one knew its cause or how it spread. Most monarchs instituted measures that prohibited exports of foodstuffs, condemned black market speculators, set price controls on grain, and outlawed large-scale fishing. At best, they proved mostly unenforceable, and at worst they contributed to a continent-wide downward spiral. The hardest hit lands, among them England, were unable to buy grain abroad—from France because of the prohibition, and from most of the rest of the grain producers because of crop failures from shortage of labor.

Any grain that could be shipped was eventually taken by pirates or looters to be sold on the black market. Meanwhile, many of the largest countries, most notably England and Scotland, had been at war, using up much of their treasury and exacerbating inflation. In , on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War, further depleting their treasuries, population, and infrastructure. Malnutrition, poverty, disease, and hunger, coupled with war, growing inflation, and other economic concerns made mid-fourteenth century Europe ripe for tragedy.

The plague did more than just devastate the medieval population; it caused a substantial change in economy and society in all areas of the world. Economic historians such as Fernand Braudel have concluded that the Black Death exacerbated a recession in the European economy that had been under way since the beginning of the century. As a consequence, social and economic change greatly accelerated during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.