A Tremendous Impact Of The Black Death On The World
When the Black Death became prominent in the early 1300’s, it ravaged across Europe, or the world for that matter, unlike any other disease of the time, killing almost anything in its path. For centuries, historians and medical professionals have studied the plague so intently, though have not come to a conclusion of how it spread so quickly. However, there are some theories; Rats, mice, fumans, lice, flease, and even squirrels. According to the CDC, the dense population of rats in conjunction with their susceptibility to flea bites, caused the plague to be so destructive due to the speed at which it traveled. Though this is the case, it was originally fleas that carries the Y. Pestis bacteria who then spread it the rodents, and furthermore people. “Plague bacteria are most often transmitted by the bite of an infected flea. During plague epizootics, many rodents die, causing hungry fleas to seek other sources of blood. People and animals that visit places where rodents have recently died from plague are at risk of being infected from flea bites. Dogs and cats may also bring plague-infected fleas into the home. Flea bite exposure may result in primary bubonic plague or septicemic plague.” From there, any person who comes in close contact with these rodents, such as a rabbit hunter or someone handling a rodent, can easily become infected. Once a person is infected, all others around him or her are a great risk for contracting the disease. All of these ways of spreading would have been airborne, thus explaining the speed at which the disease spread. Through all this, it is known without a shadow of a doubt that Black Plague had a complex influence both medically and socially in the 1300’s, but also had tremendous impact on the way the world has been shaped to today.
Originally known as the “Great Presciliance”, the Black Plague was only a mere rumor. Europeans had heard of this supposed disease occurring along trade routes in Persia, India, China, Syria, and Egypt, but were in no way ready for what was to come. “The plague arrived in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina”. When the ships arrived to large crowds waiting at the dock, many if not most of the sailors on board had already been severely symptomatic or dead. From there, the plague spread like wildfires, beginning with those on the dock. From the port of Messina, the plagues quickly travelled to Marseilles, France, and then to Northern Africa. Next, was Rome and Florence. Being the center of many trade routes, these two cities are credited for the explosion of the plague across the rest of Europe.
The Black death, or the black plague, consisted of three different plagues: the bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plagues. All forms of the Plague are “caused by Yersinia Pestis (Y. Pestis), a bacterium found in rodents and their fleas in many areas around the world.” Though the three form are caused by the same bacteria, they are different as “they are transmitted differently and their symptoms differ. Pneumonic plague can be transmitted from person to person; bubonic plague cannot. Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and is transmitted when a person breathes in Y. pestis particles in the air. Bubonic plague is transmitted through the bite of an infected flea or exposure to infected material through a break in the skin.” The symptoms for each of the types were gory, painful, and for the most part untreatable. The bubonic plague consisted of egg sized buboes in the armpit, groin, and neck areas, sudden onset of fever or chills, fatigue, malaise, and muscle aches. “If bubonic plague is untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream and spread rapidly, causing septicemic plague, and if the lungs are seeded, secondary pneumonic plague.” As for the septicemic plague, symptoms included fever and chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding from mouth, nose, rectum, and under the skin, blackening and death of tissue, and shock. Finally, along with the pneumonic plague would come symptoms such as difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, coughing up blood, fever, headache, weakness, and chest pain. Though the plague is rarely heard of today, “The World Health Organization reports 1,000-3,000 cases of plague worldwide every year. An average of five to fifteen cases occur each year in the Western United States.” These symptoms as whole, for all three of the plagues, left doctors at a loss for treatments, as nothing like this had ever happened in their careers. However, being physicians, they had to try to treat the disease. To do this, doctors often resorted to treatments, that were in today’s view, unorthodox, strange, and sometime useless or dangerous. These included, rubbing onions, herbs, or snakes (if available) on buboes and the rest of the body, drinking vinegar solutions, purifying the air through oils, and sitting by the fire. Some treatments were even dangerous, such as consuming arsenic or mercury, bursting buboes thus opening a door for infections, or balancing the four humors sometimes by cutting a person’s veins. Some even treating the plague as if it was punishment by God, and thus would go on mission-type ‘pilgrimages’ across Europe, yelling chants, and whipping each others’ backs with spiked chains. This was in hope that God would take away the plague. Because these treatments were not working, and the plagues were spreading at a rapid pace, both doctors and all others shifted their focus on preventing the disease from reaching themselves and others. Preventative measures included, sealing up homes, and even hiding inside rooms of homes. Doctors even began to refuse to treat the sick, while priests limited or even stopped performing their duties. Cities even became aware of the gravity of the plague, and turned away any ships coming into ports, and also put in place travel restrictions. Because it was unclear whether or not the Y. Pestis particles were still active and living even after an infected person died, uninfected loved ones, though it was difficult, decided to protect themselves and in doing so, cremated the dead without saying goodbye. This was because the disease would spread from the dead to the living when the living would reach down and hug or kiss their passed loved ones. In modern medicine, the plague is treated very differently. To diagnose, samples from blood, urine, buboes, lymph nodes, and/or lungs. “When a diagnosis of human plague is suspected on clinical and epidemiological grounds, appropriate specimens for diagnosis should be obtained immediately and the patient should be started on specific antimicrobial therapy without waiting for a definitive answer from the laboratory” (Polandard; Dennis). After diagnosis, a patient with the plague is immediately started on a round of powerful antibiotics. These include Gentamicin, Doxycycline, Ciprofloxacin, Levofloxacin, Moxifloxacin, or Chloramphenicol. The CDC says,“To reduce the chance of death, antibiotics must be given within 24 hours of first symptoms. Streptomycin, gentamicin, the tetracyclines, and chloramphenicol are all effective against pneumonic plague.” In addition, that patient may be placed on respiratory support and given intravenous fluids. Suspect plague patients with evidence of pneumonia should be placed in isolation, and managed under respiratory droplet precautions” (Polandard; Dennis). Droplet precautions are used in response to diseases or infections that “can be generated from the source person during coughing, sneezing, talking and during the performance of certain procedures such as suctioning or bronchoscopy”(MN Dept. health). Said Droplets may contain microorganisms that can be easily transferred or spread within three feet of an infected person, which can be spread through coughing or sneezing (MN Dept. Health). Because of this, Droplet Precautions are used in an attempt to prevent the spreading of these infections; these procedures include: patient and and all visitors must wear surgical mask and the patient’s room door is to remain closed. If the infected person had close contact with anyone else while symptomatic, that person will also be give seven days worth of antibiotics, and will be required to wear a tight fitting surgical mask.
The Black Plague of the 1300’s was not only destructive to peoples’ health in terms of its power as a disease, but it was destructive to society. The Black Plague killed nearlt one third of the european population, and the consequences were seen everywhere. Socially, the class systems began to shift. Before the Black Plague, there was a common status system in place, in which lords could easily mal-treat and poorly pay serfs. However, once almost 25 million Europeans were wiped out, lords were no longer able to continue this behavior, as a labour deficiency soon ensued. “The plague had an important effect on the relationship between the lords who owned much of the land in Europe and the peasants who worked for the lords. As people died, it became harder and harder to find people to plow fields, harvest crops, and produce other goods and services. Peasants began to demand higher wages.” Because there were now so few labourers, or serfs, they were able to demand higher wages, as lords needed work done and they were not going to do it themselves. This ultimately caused inflation in labour costs. As a response, English Parliament passed a law Known as the Statute of Labourers in 1351, prohibiting peasants from demanding higher wages, and rather make wages the same as they were in 1346. Even though this law was in act, in was rarely followed through upon, thus the inflation continued. Europe then entered into an economic depression, which began during the Black Plague. Because people were avoiding the plague at all costs, town workers such as shop owners, began closing their stores to avoid infection. After the plague passed, many of those workers had dies, leaving no one to run the stores, and thus no stores to shop at. Trade had also been nearly diminished because there was a lack of crop and goods production as well as a lack of actual travel between countries. This problem was created in the first place because there were few people to actually produce food and goods, and give services. This not only meant there was not enough to go around, it also meant that those who would receive goods would have been those who were wealthy. Prices of goods skyrocketed, meaning only the wealthy could afford basic items for sustainable living, such as food and clothing. This ultimately caused the entire European economy to inflate on an exponential level, right after the Black Plague. Not only did positions change, but economic stability changed as well - for the worst. In the 1200’s, Europe’s economy, especially in Rome and Florence, was on a rising path of flourishment due to the High Middle Ages. However, with the beginning of the hundred years war, the economy began to suffer, and once the worst of the plague had come and gone, the economy plummeted. Fammen ensued due to destroyed farmland, a lack of farmers, and as well as a lack of distribution of those resources, thus creating widespread hunger. With that having been said however, by the early 1400’s, quality of life had actually improved. “Given that the mortality associated with the Black Death was extraordinarily high and selective, the medieval epidemic might have powerfully shaped patterns of health and demography in the surviving population, producing a post-Black Death population that differed in many significant ways, at least over the short term, from the population that existed just before the epidemic” (DeWitte). This was something Europeans seldom thought was possible, after all the dmage that had been done by the plague.
In addition to a shift in economic stability, there were shifts in Europeans’ mental health. Often times, when a person loses a loved one, they enter a state of sadness for a period of time. This is known as the fourth stage of the grieving process. Now, considering between one third and one half of Europeans were taken by the plague, one can imagine the amount of pain those who survived were feeling. They were saddened about losing more than likely not only one loved one, but multiple, and they may have had a form of survivors guilt. “The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this? Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything” (Kessler). When this does happen to a person, they may turn to a religious leader for guidance and comfort. Unfortunately, the Church lost a lot of support, due to a variety of factors, one of which being that the clergy was affected by the plague as well. Many people of this time thought that there could be no way the clergy would be infected because they would have God’s constant protections, especially from things like the plague. However, when clergy members began dying from the plague, the they were viewed by Europeans changed. In addition, the clergy began stepping back from their clerical duties, leaving people, including the sick, feeling deserted. The clergy did this to protect themselves. People equated clergy falling ill to the supposed non existence of God. “Since there had been neither help nor explanation from the Church, nor had promises for cures been kept, people started to question religion or even started to revolt against the church. These were the seeds for the Reformation”. This caused the Church to lose power, support, and stability. Following the effects of the plague, the Church had to make up lost money somewhere, somehow. In doing this, the clergy began selling their services, which used to be ‘free’, to people. As a whole, the church felt the effects of the plague and their decline in support, while later Europeans felt the effects of the church.
The Black plague ultimately left a lasting impact on the world, shaping it into how we know it today. The plague came with an abundance of painful symptoms, leaving doctors at a loss as to how to treat the illness. Unlike any disease to have existed, the plague was by far the most intense and destructive, spreading at an incredible rate, ultimately creating a variety of changes, economically, religiously, and socially.