The Impact of the Bubonic Plague Now & Then

The Bubonic Plague struck with force in Europe during the years of  1340-1400, but its first pandemic actually started during the 6th century  in the Roman Empire and was called the Plague of Justinian. Because the infectious disease spread inland by transferring merchandise, through Justinian’s efforts in acquiring luxurious goods of the time and exporting supplies, his capital became the leading exporter of the Bubonic Plague. It’s estimated the first pandemic wiped out 25-50 million people. The second pandemic, also called the Black Death, during the late Middle Ages, killed a third of the European population. The Black Death originally started in Mongolia. It began in the steppe region where a reservoir stretched from the NW shore of the Caspian Sea into S. Russia. The epidemic began when the Mongols attacked an Italian trading station and broke out among the besiegers and penetrated the town. When spring arrived, the Italian merchants fled on their ships carrying the disease, by way of the fleas on rats that spread to humans near the Black Sea, and outwards to the rest of Europe. Because people fled the areas, they unknowingly spread it from one place to another. The effects of the Bubonic Plague endangered the trading routes. Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Greenland escaped the initial wave, but Norway estimated it lost 60% of its people.

The third pandemic resurfaced in the mid-19th century. This one also originated in E. Asia. The disease remained in SW China for several years before it spread. In the city of Canton, it killed 80, 000 people. Daily water traffic rapidly spread the disease. Throughout the world, the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, the plague spread via shipping routes. The last major outbreak in the USA occurred in LA in 1924, though the disease is still spread by wild rodents and can be passed to humans with contact. Between 1900 and 2015, the USA had 1,036 human plague cases. In June of 2018, a child was confirmed to be the first person in Idaho infected by Bubonic Plague in 30 years.

Bubonic Plague is caused by bacterium. One-seven days after exposure, flu-like symptoms develop. Swollen and painful lymph nodes occur in the area closest to where the bacteria entered the skin. The bacteria enters the skin through a bite from a flea and travels the lymphatic vessels into the lymph node, causing it to swell, called buboes. The common places are the armpits, groin, upper femoral region, and the neck. Another symptom is acral gangrene of the toes, fingers, nose, and lips. Other symptoms include: chills, muscle cramps, seizures, high fever above 102 degrees, and malaise. As the disease progresses, the lymph nodes can hemorrhage. Mortality with treated cases is about 1-15% compared to 40-60% of untreated cases. People infected with the disease need immediate treatment of antibiotics in 24 hours during the first symptoms to prevent death. These include: Streptomycin, Gentamicin, Tetracycline, and Ciprofloxacin.

In today’s violent world in using  biological warfare, it’s good to have some knowledge about this terrible disease.

two gray mice
Photo by Alex Smith on


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