Sunday, March 21, 2010

Black Death Essay

Essay on Black Death

By the mid-1300’s, over 3 million people had died from what was known as to be the worst epidemic in the history of mankind. The bubonic plague, or the notorious Black Death, was a mystery to the medieval time period as it took 1/3 of Europe’s population. Many people, like myself, have heard of this disease but the facts behind this infamous killer are unknown. I shall explore the background and the effects of the Black Death and how this horrific disease had found its way to the shores of England.

There is some information that I have collected about the famous plague in English history before starting the in-depth research process. The Bubonic Plague, also known as the “Black Death”, wiped out one-third of England’s population in the middle ages. The disease is contagious and passed on through blood contact from one person to another. Mice were the major carriers of this virus. The disease can be transferred not only to other humans but also to animals. The disease causes death in about 3-5 days of contact with the virus. So many people were affected in a short period of time. This was due to two reasons. One, the plague was an outbreak that happened without any warning. The second reason was that no one had any scientific information about this virus. The plague entered England sometime during the middle ages. During this time period, the medical field of research was very low and much of the vast information that is known today hadn’t even been touched or thought about back then. So, not only was this virus dangerous, but no one had any idea what it was to begin with and there was no cure. This is some background information that I have recovered from my knowledge about this horrible disease. This knowledge will give me a head start to answering questions about the Bubonic Plague.

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There are many key elements about the “Black Death” that need to be studied to gain valuable knowledge and information for this research. The main question is where the bubonic plague originated and how did the disease make its way to the rich population of England? I want to focus in on the interesting facts of the types of effects this disease had on humans and animals. The final component that needs to be understood is how did the bubonic plague epidemic disappear? These are important as well as appealing questions that I want to learn about one of the worst epidemics ever to sweep through England.

The research process is where I find the answers to my questions about the bubonic plague. The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, was the main idea of my research project. Next, I took this research assignment to the next level. I wanted to know the answer to the question of where exactly did the Bubonic Plague originate, were there different types of diseases that as a whole became to be known as the Black Death, and how did it disappear. These questions became the base of my research project. I searched through books written on this disease for answers.

Spending a mere twenty minutes in the library I found two well-written books about the Black Death. The other sources were online sites about the Black Death created by universities. Most of the information on the websites I had already obtained from the two books but little vital details aided my overall essay. Due to the large amount and quality of the information, this project has been tremendously easy. Lets take a look at the answers to the questions.

Where did the plague originate and how did it reach the shores of England? The pestilence’s origination point and how this disease created an outbreak for the British came in a unique yet logical way. The plague began in the grasslands of Asia where there was an everlasting population of the bacteria among the region’s wild rodents (Nardo 41). Latin and Arabic historians know for a fact that sudden changes in the environment, such as earthquakes, flooding, and famines initially started the pandemic. These ecological disasters might have disrupted the rodents’ prairie fields where shelter and food supplies were abundant. The rodents then probably fled into areas where they came into contact with domestic rodents and humans. From the grasslands in the middle regions of Asia, the plague spread south into China and India and then traveled west creating outbreaks in Persia and rest of the eastern Mediterranean region.

This certain path taken by the plague was solely based on the trade routes of the fourteenth century. Communicable diseases like the plague followed major trade routes from Asia to the Middle East (42). It is said that the plague is to have pursued the land route from Central Asia to the region around the Black Sea (44).

The plague was now causing havoc on the region of Crimea. Muslim merchants returning from the east brought the plague here. Trade ships belonging to the Genoese brought the disease from Crimea into Kaffa unnoticed (45). From a factory located on the outskirts of Kaffa, the pestilence finally reached Europe (44). A Genoese fleet left Kaffa because they were trying to escape Tatar warriors who had seized their city (Altman 19). While the traders were fleeing, rats carrying the disease had slipped unnoticed onto the ships. The fleet docked in Messina, a port city in Sicily. When the ships arrived in Messina, the crewmembers were either dead or dying and the rats spread to the shores of Sicily causing the epidemic to spread into Europe.

After three months of its arrival in Sicily, the Black Death ravaged Florence, Italy and began its charge into the heart of Europe (Nardo 46). Next, the disease struck the city of Marseilles by a ship that had left Italy. The pestilence now progressed through Spain. The Black Death traveled northward landing on the northern coasts of France by August of 1348. The following month, the plague had invaded the southern shores of England by crossing the English Channel and slowly paced north. The Black Death had now arrived in England only to add to the death toll. But another question arises in the minds of those who had lived through the terrifying years of the fourteenth century.

What exactly was the Black Death? Yersina pestis is a bacillus bacterium that causes the fatal disease (Mack). The bacteria lives in the digestive tract of the Xenopsylla cheopis, the Oriental Rat Flea, which is the common rat flea that carried the plague (Mack and Richard). Overall, there are about one hundred species of rat fleas that can pass the disease onto humans (Janis). Some of the more other common fleas are Nosopsylla fasciatus, Xenopsylla brasiliensis, and Pulex irritaus. The flea then regurgitates blood taken from the rat and infects the human bringing death to both the rat and the human (Knox 5).

Three different types of plague that are extremely fatal cause the Black Death. The disease is a combination of bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague (Altman 20). Bubonic, arriving from the term buboes, which meant painful swellings of the lymph nodes, is the most common type of plague (Knox 5 and Altman 20). Buboes are seen in the groin and armpit areas causing pus and blood to ooze out (Altman 20). The swelling is black in color and visible (Knox). Blood vessels break causing internal bleeding beneath the skin (Janis). Victims will bleed uncontrollably beneath the skin until death (Altman 20). The incubation period is about six days from the first infection to the first symptoms (Richard 1). Bubonic plague causes death usually within four to seven days and with great pain (Altman 20).

The other two types of plague are less common but more lethal. Pneumonic plague, transmitted through the air, attacks the respiratory system causing pneumonia, high fevers, constant coughing, bloody sputum, and the chills. This deadly type of plague kills its victims in less than two days. When a person contracts septicemic plague, the bacterium invades the bloodstreams without ever harming the lymph nodes. The germs reproduce at such rapid rates in the blood that the victim’s blood becomes poisonous. People can die within hours after being diagnosed with septicemic plague. The death rate is almost one hundred percent.

Even though all three types of plagues are unique yet fatal in their own ways, they produce the same symptoms once infecting its victims. Early symptoms include shivering, vomiting, headaches, giddiness, intolerance to light, pain in the neck and limbs, and a white coating on the tongue (Janis and Mack). Later symptoms include headaches, nausea, hemorrhaging, and fevers reaching one hundred one to about one hundred five degrees Fahrenheit. Hemorrhaging causes the nervous system to be intoxicated producing neurological and psychological disorders such as insomnia, delirium, and stupor. The Black Death brought much suffering to its victims (Richard 2).

What was the reason behind the end of the suffering the epidemic had caused? After knowing somewhat of a clue as to what was the Black Death, there were some efforts to stop the spreading of the disease. Governments locked up houses thought to contain the plague and port cities isolated all incoming ships on nearby islands (Mack). Some people breathed the pure air from fires because the plague bacillus cannot survive in immense heat. The plague primarily occurs in areas where there are numerous amounts of burrowing rodents and unsanitary conditions. Creating sanitary conditions greatly aided the process to exterminate the disease (Janis).

Because of these unsanitary conditions, the plague killed twenty-five million people. This was three times as more people than died in WWI and more than the total population of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware combined (Mack). The Black Death traveled on major trade routes from Asia to Europe to arrive in England. The disease ravaged numerous cities and countries along its path of destruction. The three fatal types of plague caused painful and quick deaths to all those who became infected from the pestilence. Without sanitary conditions, the plague spread uncontrollably.

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