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  • The Black Death surged unstoppably throughout Eurasia for years, killing people in painful,

  • excruciating ways within days of infection.

  • Almost no one who caught it stood a chance.

  • By the time it was done, about a third of the world's population lay dead.

  • So how did this deadly widespread contagion finally end?

  • Europe in 1347: famines, tuberculosis, smallpox, beheadings, STDs…[pause]...old age seemed

  • like the least common way for anyone to die at the time.

  • Even giving birth gave you good odds of ending up in a grave.

  • In this time of generally widespread disease and danger, no one could have imagined that

  • a plague which would outdo all the other plagues thus far was about to make its horrific entrance.

  • Of course, Europeans had heard of theGreat Pestilencethat was spreading through the

  • Middle East and Asia.

  • However, in a situation that thankfully would never be repeated again, they just kept going

  • on about their business hoping the problem would fix itself before really affecting them.

  • And yet one day, undeterred by state lines, the bubonic plague made its European debut.

  • 12 ships from the Black Sea docked in the sunny Sicilian port of Messina, and people

  • working on the docks went to greet the sailors and get the cargo.

  • That's when they noticed something odd.

  • Most of the sailors were dead, and the few who remained alive were covered in disgusting

  • black boils hemorrhaging blood and pus.

  • No one knew exactly what was going on, but getting the ships and boil-covered sailors

  • as far away from Messina as possible seemed like a good call.

  • To where, they didn't really care.

  • Sicilian authorities told thedeath shipsto leave the port.

  • Unfortunately, it was already too late.

  • Not only was the bubonic plague one of the most virulent, contagious diseases known to

  • man, and thus had probably already spread to some dockworkers in the brief contact they

  • had with the sailors; the flea-ridden rats that had originally infected the sailors had

  • already abandoned ship.

  • Scurrying their way right into the cobblestone streets of Messina.

  • From Messina, the plague spread through Italy, up into France, Germany, and even London within

  • the year.

  • Even in a time of such slow, arduous travel, the Black Death tore its way through the continent

  • with unimaginable force and speed.

  • Between 1346 and 1353, the Black Death killed a higher proportion of the world population

  • than any other singular event in history.

  • It killed 25 million people in Europe in a period of four years, and over this climax

  • of its spread, is estimated to have destroyed 75 million lives worldwide.

  • Keep in mind, this was during a time when the entire global population was estimated

  • to be around 380 million.

  • Some estimates even put the Plague's total death toll higher, at around 200 million,

  • and global population estimates higher as well.

  • However, even the minimum death count is horrifying to comprehend.

  • It took 200 years for the world to rebuild its population to pre-plague levels.

  • We assume part of the reason for the lengthy repopulating process was that seeing boil-covered

  • humans and death all around you for years is bound to have an effect on your sex drive.

  • But for the world population to bounce back that meant...the Black Plague had to end.

  • So how did it?

  • Did it just run its course?

  • Or did people start getting better at stopping the spread and fighting it?

  • The answer is actually nuanced, as most scientific and medical issues are, despite what your

  • self-diagnosis via WebMD may tell you.

  • Many experts have an explanation they favor most, but they also agree that the Black Plague

  • ended as a result of a combination of factors.

  • First of all, the extreme deadliness of the Black Plague proved to be part of its eventual

  • undoing.

  • The disease killed so many people so quickly, that at some point, it ran out of victims.

  • When the bubonic plague struck a person, they quickly fell grievously ill.

  • Symptoms included fevers of 100 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 41 degrees Celsius), nausea,

  • vomiting, severe joint pain, and headaches.

  • The most unique symptoms to the plague were thebuboes'' that gave it its name: large

  • egg-shaped boils that oozed pus and blood.

  • Charming.

  • People who fell ill usually became confined to their homes and died within three to eight

  • days.

  • Over 80% of all those infected, died.

  • Thus the odds once you caught the disease were….not great.

  • This is why highly deadly pathogens have a way of wiping themselves out.

  • A disease that kills so many so fast eventually reduces its own chances of spreading, and

  • therefore, surviving.

  • At some point, there were literally just not many people left to kill, and not that dense

  • a population to work through.

  • Especially when people wised up to the fact that staying away from the sick would help

  • them survive.

  • See, the second reason the plague ended was because people started trying to prevent its

  • transmission.

  • Doctors initially had no good advice to give the population.

  • This was a previously unknown disease, and also, most doctors at the time thought leeches

  • helped depression.

  • Unless Gwyneth Paltrow is your medical professional, we generally expect better medical advice

  • and treatment these days.

  • For an example of doctors' opinions about the disease during that era, one plague doctor

  • stated his belief that, “instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from

  • the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick”.

  • He wasn't exactly wrong [emphasis] about the ease [emphasis] of transmission, and the

  • fact that the bubonic plague could be spread via the air.

  • But his reasoning as to how and why was…[pause]...suspect.

  • However, despite the horrific state of medicine at the time, people eventually realized that

  • the more they came into contact with others, the more likely they would be to catch this

  • deadly new disease.

  • So people started escaping the big, dense cities of Europe and going to the countryside.

  • However, the plague, carried by fleas on rats and livestock, followed them out there as

  • well.

  • So more stringent measures were taken.

  • Storeowners closed up shops and stayed home.

  • Priests wouldn't administer last rites.

  • Doctors refused to see patients; given our previous statements, this was probably for

  • the best.

  • And cremation became extremely popular in order to both minimize the existence of plague-carrying

  • bodies, and also save space as corpses quickly filled up mass graves.

  • Tragically, people were even forced to leave their sick and suffering family members behind

  • to have a shot at escaping the plague.

  • Thomas Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University, explains that, “people had no

  • real understanding of how to fight it other than trying to avoid sick people”.

  • That's why in Italy, where the disease had first infected Europe, they decided to start

  • a new practice.

  • In the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa, incoming sailors were kept on their ships

  • in isolation for 30 days.

  • Eventually, the isolation period increased to 40 days, which in Italian was calledquarantino”.

  • This led to the origin of our current word that we've become way too depressingly familiar

  • with: “quarantine”.

  • The practice worked, as incoming cases of bubonic plague were greatly reduced.

  • Even with quarantine procedures, however, what was to be done about the fleas and rats

  • transmitting the disease?

  • These two animals still carried the bacteria, known as Yersina pestis, that spread the plague.

  • Well, most European cities decided that greatly improving their sanitation procedures would

  • help in this regard - as it does in most regards, actually.

  • It turns out the cleaner a place is, the less fleas and rats tend to congregate there, as

  • most students discover after freshman year in their college dorms.

  • People also strived to improve their personal hygiene, which helped keep even more fleas

  • at bay.

  • Again, we're unsure why this wasn't a thing before, but apparently people learning

  • to wash their hair more than once a month was the tiniest of silver linings to the horrific

  • mass death of the plague.

  • So the deadliness of the plague itself, combined with quarantine procedures and better sanitation,

  • helped curb the spread of the Black Death.

  • What was the final factor that put a stop to it?

  • In 2010, researchers collected DNA from mass graves of Black Plague victims, and found

  • that the DNA of the bacteria was vastly different from the current form of the plague.

  • It was a far deadlier strain of the disease.

  • As we said before, highly fatal pathogens must eventually find a way to be less deadly,

  • in order to keep their own reproduction going.

  • So the evolution of bacterial DNA helped lessen the deadliness of the bacteria, but that's

  • not the only way DNA transformation helped stop the plague.

  • It turns out, human DNA mutations also helped it lose momentum.

  • Apparently, a certain DNA mutation that has been shown to help protect against HIV in

  • humans today first appeared in a widespread way in the population in the 1300s.

  • The most likely reason?

  • “A widespread fatal epidemic”.

  • The disease didn't cause the mutation; it simply disproportionately affected those without

  • it, leading more of those with [emphasis] the mutation to pass down their genes.

  • A combination of all these factors stopped the plague in its tracks.

  • Unfortunately, people at the time also tried to end the Black Death in several ill-advised

  • and horrifying ways.

  • Many believed the plague was, in fact, God punishing the population for their sins.

  • Therefore, they would have to demonstrate repentance and devotion to God in order to

  • escape this curse.

  • For some reason, some believed the best way to do this was to hunt down and kill anyone

  • they deemed sinful or heretic.

  • When these people asked themselveswhat would Jesus do”, their answer apparently

  • was massacring large groups of people, especially Jewish populations.

  • Demonstrating that they clearly missed the entire point of their religion.

  • Other less terrifying but equally ineffective remedies involved doctors telling plague patients

  • to bathe in rosewater or vinegar to help cleanse the disease out.

  • This worked about as well as anyone would expect, which is to say, not at all.

  • Turns out rosewater does little to stop bacteria with an 80% kill rate.

  • Though the Black Death peaked in the years of 1346 and 1353, it by no means went away

  • after that.

  • Smaller outbreaks would resurge for hundreds of years, with the last notable one being

  • the Great Plague of London in 1665.

  • Some believe the Great Fire of London in 1666 helped put a stop to the disease's spread,

  • as it burned many of the rats and fleas carrying it, but most historians and medical experts

  • dispute that story.

  • However, this last big iteration of the disease did inspire the well-known childrens' nursery

  • rhymering-a-ring of roses”.

  • Londoners thought holding a posy of flowers up to their nose would help protect them from

  • the plague.

  • This explains the lyrics “a pocket full of posies”.

  • “A tissue, a tissue, we all fall downrefers to people falling ill and needing tissues...and

  • then dropping dead.

  • The original lyrics, in fact, were, “we all fall down dead”.

  • In case you needed further proof that the original versions of childrens' stories

  • and rhymes were all deranged.

  • Today, the bacteria that caused the Black Death still exists, but it is now treatable

  • with antibiotics.

  • About 7 cases of bubonic plague are reported in the US every year, and around 1,000 to

  • 3,000 worldwide, mostly on the African continent.

  • Meaning you have a higher chance of dying by lightning strike than the plague these

  • days.

  • And now that we know how the Black Death ended and never have to worry about a pandemic tearing

  • through the world again, why not click on this funny video, or this one right here?!

The Black Death surged unstoppably throughout Eurasia for years, killing people in painful,

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How Did Bubonic Plague (Black Death) Actually End?

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    Summer posted on 2021/05/23
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