Can the Bubonic Plague Pandemic (The Black Death) Happen Again?
Unless you were in hibernation or yet to be born in 2020, it's almost impossible not to have witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the world to a standstill. While that was a nightmarish experience for many, history reminds us that humanity has faced several pandemics, some of which were even more devastating. In this post, we'll journey back in time to explore one of the most horrifying pandemics in human history; the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, which shares eerie similarities with the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
It was the year 1347, and Europe was going to see the beginning of a disease. News have been flying around that there was a plague infecting people in far Syria, Egypt, China, India, and Persia. It wasn't until October 1347 that it landed in Sicily via the Sicilian port where ships carrying people who suffered from the plague were onboard with some dead and other seriously ill with skins dripping with blood and pus from black boils . This was the Beginning of the greatest health disaster in Europe and in history as it wiped out 1/3 of Europe's population.
When the plague struck, its victims experienced swelling in their lymph nodes in the armpits and groin, followed by the formation of black, egg-sized lumps that eventually ruptured, releasing bodily fluids. This gruesome spectacle was accompanied by a range of symptoms, including fever, excruciating pain, chills, sweating, upset stomach, diarrhea, and more. Tragically, those afflicted had little hope of survival, as medical knowledge was in its infancy, and innovations were scarce compared to modern times.
People could get infected by just getting in contact with the cloth of an already infected person, so we could say it was via contact because the method of transmission wasn't well understood at that time and so with lack of understanding of the mode of transmission, prevention was quite impossible. Yersina pestis is the bacterium behind the bubanic plague, and it is highly contagious.
One prevailing theory regarding the Black Death implicates urban rats as both carriers and spreaders of the disease. Rats exhibited similar symptoms to humans, and those suffering from the plague were often bitten by infected fleas. In areas where the disease was rampant, rat populations dwindled. The bacterium could also spread through airborne transmission via sneezes or coughs, and various livestock, animals, and humans served as hosts.
It was believed that rats with the disease died and the fleas on the rat started to contaminate other people as they looked for blood in readily available hosts. With Europe black death, scientist didn't believe that rat fleas were the culprit, they believed it was caused by human fleas. We cannot say if the pandemic then, was caused by rat fleas or human fleas.
It's essential to differentiate between Bubonic plague, Pneumonic plague, and Septicemic plague. Bubonic plague targets the lymph nodes, Pneumonic plague affects the lungs, and Septicemic plague affects the blood. In the modern era, antibiotics have revolutionized the treatment of the plague, rendering it highly manageable if diagnosed promptly. Left untreated, however, it remains a deadly threat.
While the plague has made sporadic appearances in recent times, it no longer poses the same catastrophic risk as it did in history. Advanced medical knowledge, effective treatments, and stringent public health measures have rendered pandemics like the Black Death a relic of the past, allowing us to confront new challenges with greater resilience and understanding.