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Where Was the Bubonic Plague From?
There are two ways to think about the question..
One is to consider where ,in a geographical sense, the bubonic plague broke before racing through human population. The other is to consider where biologically, a disease so deadly to humans evolved.
Society depends on agriculture and trade, From the nomadic groups to the first settled communities, humans and animals live in very close proximity. Most diseases that affect us to have come from the pests that infect them. In the case of the bubonic plague, it has been suggested that the disease came from the pigs. These animals suffer from a disease similar to the plague that is transmitted by fleabites. It is not difficult to imagine that fleas infecting pigs could also have been drawn to cats, dogs and rats, eventually transferring the disease to humans. There has long been an awareness that the bubonic plague might have come from animals. In the Old Testament, the book of Samuel suggests that mice carried the disease.
THE BLACK DEATH
When we think of the bubonic plague, we usually mean the "Black Death" of the mid-fourteenth century. In fact there is evidence to indicate that the plague had broken out in different societies over a much longer period. An Egyptian medical text refers to a plague -like disease as long ago as 1500 B.C.E.; and archeological evidence suggests that outbreaks had occurred 2,000 years before even that. The Byzantine Empire was rocked by a plague in the sixth century C.E. that, at its height, may have killed as many as 10,000 people a day in Constantinople.
The difficulty is that we cannot be sure that these plagues were the the same "bubonic" plague that broke out in the Middle Ages. Some of the scientists argue that what we call the bubonic plague today may not have been the disease that swept across Europe in the fourteenth century. They note that the bubonic plague is a bacterial infection and is slow to be transmitted. It has been proposed that the plague of the Middle Ages was a viral infection, more like the Ebola- and every bit as deadly. This is a minority view at present.
FROM EAST TO WEST
Geographically, the most likely place that the bubonic plague came from was Central Asia. There were three factors that allowed it to spread into the wider world, the most important of which was trade . The overland route from Asia to Europe, the Silk Road, had been established for centuries and was supplemented by sailing routes across the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Trading caravans and merchant vessels almost certainly carried the infection from its starting point.
The migration of the disease was made easier by two other factors:
One, In the Islamic Middle East and Christian Europe, pilgrimages were seen as a religious duty. The pilgrims made excellent hosts for the bubonic plague as they returned to their homes. The mid-fourteenth century was also a period marked by conflicts that enhanced the potential for a new disease to spread.
In the trading port of Kaffa on the coast of the Black Sea, the Tartars besieged traders from Genoa and Venice, When the attackers were afflicted by bubonic plague, they catapulted the dead bodies into the city. The disease broke out there and was carried in the trading ships as people fled in 1347. The survivors later introduced the Black Death to mainland Europe, with catastrophic consequences.
It seems most likely that the medieval outbreak of the bubonic plague came from somewhere in Central Asia and spread outward.We know that it was a result of close interaction of humans and domestic animals, and we know that it has been more virulent at some times than others. WE also know that it is still with us, and that the World Health Organization (WHO) records about 3,000 cases a year- so one day it could be coming to a place near you.
DID YOU KNOW THAT...
- The bacteria that cause bubonic plague are carried in the gut of the flea. As the bacteria thrive, they begin to block the gut, causing the flea to become hungrier and so bite more often. Even bite transfers bacteria to the victim
- The bubonic plague is estimated to have killed 25 million people in Europe during the fourteenth century. This was approximately a quarter of the population.
- The rate of mortality fluctuated in different epidemic wave ,but one in four is probably average.
- The first recorded Ebola virus outbreak in humans occurred in 1976. The mortality rate for the virus is between 50 and 90 percent. The speed with which victims succumb often means that small communities are virtually wiped out, preventing a more extensive spread of the disease.