Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Medieval Black Death Was Probably Not Bubonic Plague
Science Daily ^ | Posted 4/15/2002 | Penn State

Posted on 04/15/2002 11:36:11 AM PDT by Gladwin

The Black Death of the 1300s was probably not the modern disease known as bubonic plague, according to a team of anthropologists studying on these 14th century epidemics.

“Although on the surface, seem to have been similar, we are not convinced that the epidemic in the 14th century and the present day bubonic plague are the same,” says Dr. James Wood, professor of anthropology and demography at Penn State. “Old descriptions of disease symptoms are usually too non-specific to be a reliable basis for diagnosis.”

The researchers note that it was the symptom of lymphatic swelling that led 19th century bacteriologists to identify the 14th century epidemic as bubonic plague.

“The symptoms of the Black Death included high fevers, fetid breath, coughing, vomiting of blood and foul body odor,” says Rebecca Ferrell, graduate student in anthropology. “Other symptoms were red bruising or hemorrhaging of skin and swollen lymph nodes. Many of these symptoms do appear in bubonic plague, but they can appear in many other diseases as well.”

The researchers, who also include Sharon DeWitt-Avina, Penn State graduate student in anthropology, Stephen Matthews and Mark Shriver, both professors in the Population Research Institute at Penn State, and Darryl Holman, assistant professor of anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, are investigating church records and other documents from England to reconstruct the virulence, spacial diffusion and temporal dynamics of the Black Death.

They are looking especially closely at bishops’ records of the replacement of priests in several English dioceses. Although these records are often incomplete and difficult to interpret, they clearly show that many priests died during the epidemic period of 1349 to 1350.

“These records indicate that the spread of the Black Death was more rapid than we formerly believed,” Wood told attendees today (April 12) at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Buffalo, N.Y. “This disease appears to spread too rapidly among humans to be something that must first be established in wild rodent populations, like bubonic plague. An analysis of the priests’ monthly mortality rates during the epidemic shows a 45-fold greater risk of death than during normal times, a level of mortality far higher than usually associated with bubonic plague.”

Modern bubonic plague typically needs to reach a high frequency in the rat population before it spills over into the human community via the flea vector. Historically, epidemics of bubonic plague have been associated with enormous die-offs of rats.

“There are no reports of dead rats in the streets in the 1300s of the sort common in more recent epidemics when we know bubonic plague was the causative agent,” says Wood.

Instead of being spread by animals and insect vectors, the researchers believe that the Black Death was transmitted through person-to-person contact, as are measles and smallpox. The geographic pattern of the disease seems to bear this out, since the disease spread rapidly along roadways and navigable rivers and was not slowed down by the kinds of geographical barrier that would restrict the movement of rodents.

“It is possible that the Black Death was caused by any of a number of infectious organisms, but we are not ready to pinpoint the causative agent,” says Wood. “The Black Death was too quickly identified with bubonic plague in the past. Indeed, historians took what was known about the bubonic plague and used it erroneously to fill in the many gaps in our picture of the Black Death. We do not want to make the same mistake by identifying some other possible cause prematurely.”

The researchers do not rule out the possibility that the Black Death might have been caused by an ancestor of the modern plague bacillus, which might later have mutated into the insect-borne disease of rodents that we now call bubonic plague. The fact is that we can only trace modern bubonic plague reliably back to the late 18th century or early 19th century, according to Wood. Who knows when it first emerged?

“We too often make the assumption that while a lot of things change in the interaction of infectious diseases and human hosts, the microbe itself stays more or less the same,” says Wood. “This is wrong. If anything is likely to change, it is a microbe that goes through millions of generations and an equal number of chances to mutate over a few centuries. We see no reason to think that the Black Death pathogen still exists in anything like its original form.”


TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: archaeology; blackdeath; blackplague; bubonicplague; crevolist; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; msbogusvirus; plague; yersiniapestis
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-72 next last
Evolution in action
1 posted on 04/15/2002 11:36:11 AM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: *crevo_list
I am a little curious what they think could be the Black Death, if it wasn't bubonic plague.

It is too bad that they couldn't sample dead bodies from that time period for bacterial genetic material. I don't know if that is even possible.

2 posted on 04/15/2002 11:40:40 AM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
...not the modern disease known as the bubonic plague...

Uh, duh. It could have been a different strain of the bubonic plague. It could have included a bunch of different diseases that were lumped in with bubonic plague. I hope these folks have got an infectious disease specialist or two on their team.

3 posted on 04/15/2002 11:43:11 AM PDT by mewzilla
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
This article was posted a few days ago, and anyway, I think it's bunk. As though rats couldn't find a way to get across rivers. These scientists need to take a trip into the real world.
4 posted on 04/15/2002 11:43:39 AM PDT by SpringheelJack
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
"You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays, we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach."
--Theodoric of York
5 posted on 04/15/2002 11:44:50 AM PDT by KarlInOhio
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: SpringheelJack
And bone up on the lifestyles of the furry and flea-infested.
6 posted on 04/15/2002 11:47:09 AM PDT by mewzilla
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Ask and ye shall receive.

Suicide PCR Identifies Yersinia pestis DNA in Black Death Victims
7 posted on 04/15/2002 11:49:40 AM PDT by Black Agnes
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: KarlInOhio
"You know, medicine is not an exact science..."

"Broom Gilda - more leaches..."

8 posted on 04/15/2002 11:49:41 AM PDT by Psalm 73
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Once people are infected, they infect other people very rapidly. So all the stuff about barriers to rats would only apply to the earliest stage of the plague. When it hit heavily populated areas, it became a person-to-person disease.
9 posted on 04/15/2002 11:49:53 AM PDT by firebrand
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Whatever it was, it sure killed a lot of people and actually resulted in a significant reduction in the supply of able-bodied workers. The surviving peasants shamelessly exploited that dislocation by demanding and receiving a totally unjustifiable improvement in their standard of living at the direct expense of their employers.
10 posted on 04/15/2002 11:50:13 AM PDT by humbletheFiend
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
I am a little curious what they think could be the Black Death, if it wasn't bubonic plague.

I've got a book called "Diseases and History", a very interesting read, that suggests that the Black Death was actually two diseases working at once: the Bubonic plague, which is spread by rats, and Pneumonic Plague, which is spread by airborne droplets and was highly,highly contagious, which would correspond to the theory in this article, that "the researchers believe that the Black Death was transmitted through person-to-person contact, as are measles and smallpox.

The book I own is fairly old, so I don't know why the researchers in the article do not address Pneumonic Plague at all.

11 posted on 04/15/2002 11:51:31 AM PDT by wimpycat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: firebrand
I didn't know that the bubonic plague could be spread person to person? I thought fleas were the vector? And that a flea had to bite an infected person, then bite another victim in order to spread the disease?
12 posted on 04/15/2002 11:52:21 AM PDT by mewzilla
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Modern bubonic plague typically needs to reach a high frequency in the rat population before it spills over into the human community via the flea vector.

Here in the US bubonic plague is endemic in the West due to prairie dog populations and their flea vectors. Don't these so-called scientists have anything better to do with our tax dollars than to spend their time trying to debunk accepted science.

13 posted on 04/15/2002 11:52:46 AM PDT by scholar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wimpycat
Yup, that makes a lot more sense.
14 posted on 04/15/2002 11:53:10 AM PDT by mewzilla
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: SpringheelJack
I don't know how far rats travel, or really much about the bubonic plague.
15 posted on 04/15/2002 11:53:39 AM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: wimpycat
Probably because they neglected to talk to anyone with actual infectious disease experience?
16 posted on 04/15/2002 11:54:27 AM PDT by mewzilla
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: wimpycat
Actually, both bubonic and pneumonic are the same organism, y. pestis. In the case of pneumonic, the patient has bubonic and some respiratory disease simultaneously, causing the cough droplets to be infected with y. pestis as well. The deadliest and most scary form of the disease is actually septicaemic plague. In that form, it infects the blood stream and few or no 'buboes' form. This was the form it took in patients who went to sleep healthy and never woke up.
17 posted on 04/15/2002 11:54:51 AM PDT by Black Agnes
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
"I am a little curious what they think could be the Black Death, if it wasn't bubonic plague. "

Before they are done, they might well try to prove that the people were infected with that fatal disease called Conservatism.

18 posted on 04/15/2002 11:56:43 AM PDT by Don Myers
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
FWIW, two excellent books on infectious disease:

Evolution of Infectious Disease, by Paul Ewald; and The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. Garrett has another book out on public health issues that I haven't read, but it's supposed to be very informative.

19 posted on 04/15/2002 11:58:26 AM PDT by mewzilla
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: Black Agnes
That is a good link that you posted, and has a lot of real science.
20 posted on 04/15/2002 12:02:07 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: AfellowInPhoenix; Alamo-Girl; AndrewC; Aric2000; BikerNYC; blam; BMCDA; boris; brett66...
Ping to all y'all.
21 posted on 04/15/2002 12:02:19 PM PDT by BMCDA
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Here's an interesting website about the plague.

Also, it's important to remember that a disease acts differently when it's first introduced to a population (hence the extremely high mortality among American Indians exposed to European diseases)and the symptoms are often different.

22 posted on 04/15/2002 12:03:55 PM PDT by wimpycat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
However it was caused, that was one effective little bugger.


23 posted on 04/15/2002 12:03:56 PM PDT by xJones
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Black Agnes
Interesting article.
24 posted on 04/15/2002 12:05:41 PM PDT by BMCDA
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: wimpycat
Also, it's important to remember that a disease acts differently when it's first introduced to a population (hence the extremely high mortality among American Indians exposed to European diseases)and the symptoms are often differenthence the extremely high mortality among American Indians exposed to European diseases

Can you expand on that?

25 posted on 04/15/2002 12:09:09 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
“The symptoms of the Black Death included high fevers, fetid breath, coughing, vomiting of blood and foul body odor,”

Foul body odor in that era was pretty much the norm ... as was fetid breath (bad teeth).
So how could you tell?
I assume they're talking about degree ... more odoriferous and fetid than usual.:o[

26 posted on 04/15/2002 12:09:52 PM PDT by BluH2o
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: xJones
Those are some fast moving rats. Whats the land speed velocity of an African rat?
27 posted on 04/15/2002 12:10:22 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Thank you. It's interesting that the pla gene they sequenced for shows a point mutation from what's available in genbank today. It's also a fairly significant (size and hydrophobicitywise) mutation, phenylalanine to serine. Phenylalanine is fairly large and has a big non polar aromatic group. Serine is small and polar. No idea what this might do w. regard to the virulence aspect, but there are undoubtedly other differences in other genes they didn't sequence for. It would be interesting for them to sequence the whole genome of this particular bug and compare it to 'modern' y. pestis. I have read several theories that maintain that y. pestis mutated itself into 'not as virulent' somewhere along the end of the 1600's. Interesting to see if this is true. Modern plague sequencing and information can be found at....

Sanger Yersinia Pestis Sequencing Project Home
28 posted on 04/15/2002 12:11:31 PM PDT by Black Agnes
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: SpringheelJack;All
See my post here and the rest of this thread on same subject.

EBUCK

29 posted on 04/15/2002 12:12:00 PM PDT by EBUCK
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Keep letting these DemocRATS muliply & you will see the same, however the mind goes first.
30 posted on 04/15/2002 12:16:42 PM PDT by Digger
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Why shouldn't new diseases appear? Microorganisms tend to reproduce extremely rapidly, and genetic mutations should tend to occur more rapidly than in larger organisms.

Black Death could have been a variation of something which currently exists, or it could have been something which died out along with susceptible hosts. It was a nasty little bugger, though.

31 posted on 04/15/2002 12:17:57 PM PDT by Dog Gone
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
"Also, it's important to remember that a disease acts differently when it's first introduced to a population " -- Can you expand on that?

After a few generations of exposure, the only survivors are those who have some degree of immunity to the disease.

32 posted on 04/15/2002 12:18:39 PM PDT by SauronOfMordor
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: SpringheelJack
This article was posted a few days ago

Is anyone else having trouble when searching for articles? I searched on the term black death, but I couldn't find anything.

33 posted on 04/15/2002 12:18:48 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Black Agnes
I just read the study--looks sound to me.
34 posted on 04/15/2002 12:21:52 PM PDT by Hagrid
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: BMCDA
Thanks for the ping. Black Agnes post 7 is pretty good.
35 posted on 04/15/2002 12:22:14 PM PDT by AndrewC
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: Black Agnes
I was recently taking Zithromax (antibiotic), and I went to a website describing how bacteria can become immune to this antibiotic. Apparently, in E.Coli (I think), one small genetic change renders the bacteria immune to Zithromax.

I was also told to eat lots of yogurt to replenish the bacteria in my colon. lol

36 posted on 04/15/2002 12:22:47 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
I searched on the term black death, but I couldn't find anything.

The lesson is, shoot all Rats on sight, especially those from Massachusetts.

37 posted on 04/15/2002 12:24:43 PM PDT by AndrewC
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 33 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
Those are some fast moving rats. What is the land speed velocity of an African rat?

Landspeed? Then you rule out the aid of African swallows. With that speed, one would suspect Acme roller skates. :)

Speaking of the effects of newly introduced diseases, here's an interesting read: Spanish Conquest. Excerpt: Unknown to the Aztecs the Spanish had an invisible advantage. Apparently, one Spaniard soldiers was infected with the smallpox virus. Within two weeks the disease infected the Aztec Empire and one forth of the population died.

38 posted on 04/15/2002 12:28:14 PM PDT by xJones
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 27 | View Replies]

To: scholar
Don't these so-called scientists have anything better to do with our tax dollars than to spend their time trying to debunk accepted science.

That's what scientific inquiry is all about...

It was once scientifically accepted that proteins contained the genetic material of heredity, and that DNA was likely just a solvent or something. It wasnt until Watson and Crick in the '50's determined with x-ray crystallography the structure of DNA (the AGCT bases) that DNA could indeed transmit and record a lot of data.

Science is about examining what you "know," and finding out what you only thought you knew.

39 posted on 04/15/2002 12:30:42 PM PDT by jude24
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: SauronOfMordor
After a few generations of exposure, the only survivors are those who have some degree of immunity to the disease.

Hmm, then the symptoms would be different?

40 posted on 04/15/2002 12:32:03 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 32 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
“The symptoms of the Black Death included high fevers, fetid breath, coughing, vomiting of blood and foul body odor,”...

They all died of really, really bad hangovers.

41 posted on 04/15/2002 12:33:10 PM PDT by randog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: xJones
Landspeed? Then you rule out the aid of African swallows. With that speed, one would suspect Acme roller skates. :)

As we all know, African swallows are laden with coconuts.

42 posted on 04/15/2002 12:33:12 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 38 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
I am a little curious what they think could be the Black Death, if it wasn't bubonic plague.

Today it would be called AIDS.

43 posted on 04/15/2002 12:33:51 PM PDT by mcsparkie
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

Comment #44 Removed by Moderator

To: BMCDA
Thanks for the heads up!
45 posted on 04/15/2002 12:37:31 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: BMCDA
It is no longer socially acceptable to call this plague the "Black Death." That obsolete term has been superseded by "Great Society Death."
46 posted on 04/15/2002 12:38:03 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: Gladwin
That's two african swallows with a coconut strung between them. Otherwise, as has been proven, the coconuts could not have reached their destination.

EBUCK

47 posted on 04/15/2002 12:45:50 PM PDT by EBUCK
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 42 | View Replies]

To: jude24
Science is about examining what you "know," and finding out what you only thought you knew.

No argument there--but anthropologists are not epidemiologists.

48 posted on 04/15/2002 12:55:07 PM PDT by scholar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 39 | View Replies]

To: EBUCK
It is simple then, they would use some strand of creeper.
49 posted on 04/15/2002 12:55:23 PM PDT by Gladwin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 47 | View Replies]

To: scholar
I'm not even certain anthropology is science...
50 posted on 04/15/2002 12:56:36 PM PDT by jude24
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 48 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-72 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson