The Black Death – a pandemic that wiped out a whole continent

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There is no doubt that COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down and made us realize how incredibly easy it is to spread disease among the population. What started as a virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan, within a matter of months grew into a global pandemic, sowed fear into our bones, and made us lock ourselves into our homes and hopefully wait it out.    

However, this situation is nothing humankind hasn’t encountered before. Humans have been accompanied by epidemics and pandemics from the very beginning of their existence. In a way, it was only a matter of time when it would happen again, except that this time around mankind has the access to deadly biological weapons and no one can know for sure if the virus is naturally born or it’s a men’s evil creation.  

A pandemic that shook the world to the core 

a-pandemic-that-wiped-out-a-whole-continentNevertheless, it’s not as bad as it seems. The outcome could have been much worst. Thanks to 21st-century medicine, massive vaccinations are on their way and the world will slowly but surely come back to normal. Now imagine living seven centuries ago. The world is yet again ravaged by a deadly disease, but this time medicine is barely developed, antibiotics still haven’t been discovered and people are in an even bigger panic mode. In 1346 the infamous Black Death has taken the world’s stage for the second time and raged across the globe for nearly ten years until it finally subsided. It never really disappeared, however, as every year around 600 cases are still being reported.  

Early beginnings  

Caused by a bacterium known under the name Yersinia pestis and spread by flea bites most commonly found in mice and rats, the plague is believed to have made its first appearance on Earth in the region of the Tian Shan mountains. The very first plague pandemic, also famous as the Plague of Justinian, happened in 541 AD when it ravished the Byzantine Empire. After that, It would only occasionally cause mild outbreaks and most of the time lay low. That was until it reached Italy in the 1300s which was the beginning of the world’s deadliest pandemic.   

The origin of the second plague pandemic is still left under negotiation. Most researchers believe it started in Kaffa and arrived in Europe first on the territory of Italy. However, some claim that before appearing on the Crimea peninsula, it was already spread in China, with the epicenter, you guessed it, Wuhan. Coincidence? I’ll leave it for you to decide.  

a-pandemic-that-wiped-out-a-whole-continentUnknowingly to people, ships from Kaffa that traveled to Italy were infested with infected rats. From that point on, all hell broke lose. The-until-then dormant plague started spreading like a wildfire. Among the three types of plague, the bubonic one took over the planet from 1346 until 1353 and is considered to be the most fatal pandemic ever documented in history as it wiped out almost half of the population.

Symptoms and treatment   

Common symptoms accompanied by the plague include headache, fever, and general body weakness. The bubonic type also causes inflammation and swelling of the lymph nodes which is manifested on the skin as buboes. If left untreated, an infected person can die within a matter of days. Taking into account the very limited medical knowledge of the plague doctors, the victims experienced quite a painful death. Nowadays, the bubonic plague is considered to be curable in most cases.  

Viruses and bacteria are a part of the ecosystem and will never be extinguished. Depending on where we stand in the medical field, in some cases they can be tamed, in others don’t. We have been living with them for centuries and will keep on living until the end of days. 

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