Culprit: Oriental Rat Flea The Black Death was one of the worst natural disasters in history. In 1347 A.D., a great plague swept over Europe, ravaged cities causing widespread hysteria and death. One third of the population of Europe died.
How it was Transmitted
How was the Black Death transmitted? The three forms of the Black Death were transmitted two ways. The septicemic and bubonic plague were transmitted with direct contact with a flea, while the pneumonic plague was transmitted through airborne droplets of saliva coughed up by bubonic or septicemic infected humans.
The bubonic and septicemic plague were transmitted by the bite of an infected flea. Fleas, humans, and rats served as hosts for the disease. The bacteria (Yersinia pestis) multiplied inside the flea blocking the flea's stomach causing it to be very hungry. The flea would then start voraciously biting a host. Since the feeding tube to the stomach was blocked , the flea was unable to satisfy its hunger. As a result, it continued to feed in a frenzy. During the feeding process, infected blood carrying the plague bacteria , flowed into the human's wound. The plague bacteria now had a new host. The flea soon starved to death.
The pneumonic plague was transmitted differently than the other two forms. It was transmitted through droplets sprayed from the lungs and mouth of an infected person. In the droplets were the bacteria that caused the plague. The bacteria entered the lungs through the windpipe and started attacking the lungs and throat.
The Black Death came in three forms, the bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Each different form of plague killed people in a vicious way. All forms were caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis.
The bubonic plague was the most commonly seen form of the Black Death. The mortality rate was 30-75%. The symptoms were enlarged and inflamed lymph nodes (around arm pits, neck and groin). The term 'bubonic' refers to the characteristic bubo or enlarged lymphatic gland. Victims were subject to headaches, nausea, aching joints, fever of 101-105 degrees, vomiting, and a general feeling of illness. Symptoms took from 1-7 days to appear.
The pneumonic plague was the second most commonly seen form of the Black Death. The pneumonic and the septicemic plague were probably seen less then the bubonic plague because the victims often died before they could reach other places (this was caused by the inefficiency of transportation). The mortality rate for the pneumonic plague was 90-95% (if treated today the mortality rate would be 5-10%). The pneumonic plague infected the lungs. Symptoms included slimy sputum tinted with blood. Sputum is saliva mixed with mucus exerted from the respiratory system. As the disease progressed, the sputum became free flowing and bright red. Symptoms took 1-7 days to appear.
The septicemic plague was the most rare form of all. The mortality was close to 100% (even today there is no treatment). Symptoms were a high fever and skin turning deep shades of purple due to DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). According to Dr. Matt Luther, Vanderbilt University Medical Center "The plague often caused DIC in severe forms, and DIC can be fatal. The picture above demonstrates what DIC can look like. In its most deadly form DIC can cause a victims skin to turn dark purple. The black death got its name from the deep purple, almost black discoloration." Victims usually died the same day symptoms appeared. In some cities, as many as 800 people died every day.
The economy was probably hit the hardest of all the aspects of Europe. The biggest problem was that valuable artisan skills disappeared when large numbers of the working class died. Therefore, those who had skills became even more valuable than the rich people. The society structure began to change giving formally poor laborers more say. The peasants and artisans demanded higher wages. Serfs seeking liberation from tilling their lord's land were told by decree and statue to return to their master's duties. The poor people saw so much death they wanted to enjoy life. Serfs began to leave their land and not engage in the planting of crops. Unattended crops and stray animals died of starvation because of the lack of care. Several domesticated animals began to roam the forest. Farming communities became rare. The lack of sufficient law enforcement personnel promoted lawlessness. People called "Bechini" pillaged homes, murdering and raping people. They dressed in red robes with red masks and only their eyes showed. The horror of the Black Death had taken on a new victim, the economy.
One of the groups that suffered the most was the Christian church. It lost prestige, spiritual authority, and leadership over the people. How? The church promised cures, treatment, and an explanation for the plague. They said it was God's will, but the reason for this awful punishment was unknown. People wanted answers, but the priests and bishops didn't have any. The clergy abandoned their Christian duties and fled. People prayed to God and begged for forgiveness. After the plague, ended angry and frustrated villagers started to revolt against the church. The survivors were also enraged at doctors, who didn't cure patients, but said they could.
Soon after the last eruption of the Black Death, the views on children changed. Although carrying on the family name was still considered important , the birth rate dropped. Children were considered "not worth the trouble" to raise. It took four hundred years before Europe's population equaled the pre-Black Death figures. The demand for agricultural workers gave survivors a new bargaining power. Workers formerly bound to the land could now travel and command higher wages for their services. In addition, people left rural areas and migrated to cities for higher wages. The economic structure of land-based wealth shifted. Portable wealth in the form of money, skills and services emerged. Small towns and cities grew while large estates and manors began to collapse. The very social, economic, and political structure of Europe was forever altered. One tiny insect, a flea, toppled feudalism and changed the course of history in Europe.