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The Plague

The black death was a bubonic plague that caused the deaths of up to 200 million people between the years 1346 to 1353. Albeit hundreds of years ago, the plague still infects up to 650 people every year. So, what is the plague and why haven’t we been able to eradicate it like we eradicated smallpox?

This was not the first plague to cause turmoil in the world. There is evidence to believe that the first plague took place as early as the Bronze age.

The black death is due to being infected by the Yersinia pestis bacteria which was transmitted from the bite of a flea on rodents. This particular strain of Yersinia pestis. This rod-shaped bacterium disables the immune system of its host by injecting toxins into macrophages allowing the bacteria to multiply.

The black death struck Asia first and it arrived in Europe through 12 ill-fated ships that docked in Sicily. What was on the ship shocked and haunted people? Most of the sailors on board were dead whilst the rest were gravely ill and covered in black oozing boils. These ships were ordered to leave the dock, but it was already too late, the plague had made its way onto mainland Europe.

Yersinia pestis travelled from person to person through the air as well as through the bite of infected fleas and rats. Rats and fleas were found everywhere in Europe and especially so on ships and this was how the disease spread from country to country. At the time no one knew how it was transmitted or how to prevent it, making it even more deadly. The plague infected livestock as well as civilians.

The bubonic plague involved swollen and painful lymph nodes. The sores turn the skin black hence the name the black death. Other early symptoms include vomiting and fever.

The pneumonic plague is more infectious and a more advanced stage of plague that travels into the lungs. It is passed through airborne particles coughed from an infected person’s lungs. This can progress and can infect the bloodstream.

The plague never really ended but its spread did slow down as incoming sailors had to remain in isolation for 30 days before arriving on shore.

The black plague returned many times throughout the centuries, but nothing was ever as severe as the black death of the 14th century. Modern hygiene, medicine, and sanitation have helped keep the numbers of spread low, but this disease is yet to be eradicated. The survival rates are much higher now with the availability of antibiotics to fight the infection.

Smallpox only affected humans so that is why this disease was able to be eradicated. The plague affects many species on every continent making it harder to control and therefore it has not been eradicated.

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