Bubonic Plague (Black Death)

In 1665 the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, yet again, devastated Europe and Asia, wiping out a staggering near fifteen to twenty percent of Europe’s population. There is controversy as to when this horrid disease first arose, but it is believed that the earliest documentation came from the first book of Samuel after the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant in 1000 B.C. and were overcome by a dreadful plague.

The Bubonic Plague is thought to have originated in China and brought to Europe through popular trade routes. Once established in Europe it found its place in London, England and other large cities where it quickly began to decimate populations as, it held a fifty to ninety percent mortality rate. The crowded, unsanitary, and unmaintained streets of the large cities made a perfect breeding ground for the epidemic to spread. This is because the unsanitary conditions gave haven to rats and other rodents harboring the plague. Such rodents carried with them an innumerable amount of fleas. These fleas would contract the plague bacteria, and then bite and infect a human. The plague could also be spread through human contact. As the wounds and sores caused by the plague would weep and ooze the bacteria which was easily spread to the caregiver.

The bubonic form of the plague, attacks the human lymph nodes, primarily those located in the neck, armpits and groin areas, causing immense swelling and pain. These swollen lymph nodes are known as bouboes. These were the first and most noticeable signs and symptoms. Other symptoms such as fever, chills, shock and necrotic appendages would shortly follow. At the time, the only reasonable explanation was that the plague was a punishment sent from God to punish those who led astray. This belief led to the Miasma theory of disease, which states that disease is spread through “bad air”. It was then assumed that the plague was evil and lingered in certain areas. At the time, this was the only explanation as the germ theory would not be discovered until the 1860’s.

The plague was treated in a number of manors. Almost all of which, did more harm than good. It was thought that one way to prevent the plague was to filter the evil air through something that smelt good. This gave way to the plague doctor’s beak shaped mask, which was stuffed with pulpury and spices. Other methods of remedy included, bleeding the patience. Those of the higher class could afford leeches to suck out the bad blood from the body. Lancing the buboes and quite literally rubbing anything from vinegar to excrement into the wound was another. The reason for many of these preposterous remedies came from the fact that many of the plague doctors were not medical practitioners at all. They were simply average people who tried whatever came to them. As a result, the medicines became more and more profound. Such as, drinking mercury, bathing in and drinking urine, and the Victory method proposed by Thomas Vicory. A plague ridden individual would strap a live hen to the boubou and leave it there until either the plague was healed or the chicken died. Towards the end of 1664 anything and everything was tried as a cure. As mentioned before, many of which caused infection and more harm than good.

The plague still lurks even today in rodents and their fleas. However, the proper treatment merely consists of a prescribed antibiotic. Although, even so, it still carries with it a fifteen percent mortality rate. We must never take for granted the blessings modern medical advancements give to us. We must also understand that such advancements are not readily available to all those around the world. Although this disease is extremely rare, it must not be underestimated.