The Black Death or bubonic plague was one of the most devastating crises in human history. Coming out of the East, it reached the shores of Italy in the spring of 1348 taking death tolls across Europe at an unprecedented rate in recorded history.
The plague manifested in Europe between 1348 and 1350 and around half of entire population had fallen victim to the pestilence. The Black Death is widely thought to have been an outbreak of plague caused from the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which has been supported by recent forensic research.
Black Death presented itself in three interrelated forms. The bubonic variant derives its name from swellings or buboes that appeared on a victim's neck, armpits or groin. These tumors could range in size from an egg to that of an apple. Although some survived the painful ordeal, the manifestation of these lesions usually signaled the victim had a life expectancy of up to a week. Infected fleas spread this bubonic type of the plague attaching themselves to rats and humans.
A second variation was pneumonic plague. It attacked the respiratory system and was spread by merely breathing the exhaled air of a victim. Life expectancy of the infected was measured in one or two days. Finally, the septicemic version of the disease attacked the blood system.
Origins from China
In October 2010, medical geneticists confirmed that the plague came from China. In China, the 13th century Mongol conquest disrupted farming and trading. The conflict led to widespread famine starting in 1331, additionally worsened with plague. The population dropped from approximately 120 to 60 million. The 14th century plague killed an estimated 25 million Chinese during the 15 years before moving along the Silk Road.
Carried by rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships, it spread throughout the Mediterranean. By the end of 1346 reports of plague had reached the seaports of Europe. Plague was reportedly first introduced at the trading city of Caffa in the Crimea in 1347. During the siege from the Mongol army under the leadership of Jani Beg, the infected corpses were catapulted over the city walls to infect the inhabitants. The Genoese traders fled, taking the plague by ship into Sicily and the south of Europe, from where it spread north.
Although the accuracy of this event cannot be confirmed, it is clear that existing conditions such as war and famine contributed to the severity of the Black Death. According to the World Health Organization, there are 1,000 to 3,000 cases of bubonic plague worldwide each year. There are no known cases in Australia or Europe. Russia, the Middle East, China, Southwest and Southeast Asia, Madagascar, southern and eastern Africa, the Andes mountains and Brazil are areas where cases occur in.
Treatment of bubonic plague is developed and should begin as soon as the disease is diagnosed. Antibiotics streptomycin or tetracycline are usually given in treatment of symptoms. A vaccination is also available for people working in or traveling to plague-affected areas of the world.