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 Bubonic Plague

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Bubonic Plague   Fri 30 Nov 2012, 16:01

Seems the Black Death is older than thought, new evidence suggests that the plague of Justinian could have been the pesky Y.pestis and partially responsible for the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire.
http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/11/2012/genome-reveals-evidence-for-antique-bubonic-plague-pandemic

A lot of supposition of course, but prefectly feasible that Y.pestis has been with us a very long time.

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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sat 01 Dec 2012, 05:56

I have often wondered if the survivers of the plague were immune because their ancestors had a mild version from an earlier outbreak. I wonder if any of us have an immunity. It must be quite dangerous digging amongst the bodies of the victims, I know that most of the burial pits in England have been concreted or bitumined over.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sat 01 Dec 2012, 07:32

Since we are descendents of the survivors of the repeated outbreaks of plague between the 14th and 18th centuries I would think that most of us, at least those primarily with a Eurasian ancestry, have inherited some degree of genetic immunity. This, at least in part, might well account for why the great sweeping epidemics of plague now rarely occur (although that doesn't quite square with the huge death toll from the pandemic which started in 1855 in China). Even where plague does still occur I believe the mortality, even without modern treatment, is considerably lower than in the great 'Black Death' pandemic of 1347-50. The outbreak in Bombay in the 1900's (ie before antibiotics) killed 3% of the population while the 1347/8 Black Death generally killed about 30% of Europe's population and in some areas (eg Florence) the death rate was as high as 75%.

I've always, well at least for many years, thought it was generally accepted that the Plague of Justinian was the 'first' pandemic of Y pestis, the second being that between 1340 and 1700 odd, and the third being the central asian outbreak in the mid 19th century. And although obviously not proven I have seen it suggested that the epidemic described by Thucydides as suddenly appearing during the Peloponnesian War could very well have been Y pestis plague too.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sat 01 Dec 2012, 10:25

When I was on holiday in India in 1994 there was a plague outbreak. Saudi Arabia stopped all flights from India into the country so I had to fly back to the UK and ask my local GP for a certificate that I did not have bubonic or pneumonic plague so I could get a flight back to work. I still have that document - can't be many can say that these days.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sat 01 Dec 2012, 13:29

No Gran, there can't be many documents like that ... I still have my rabies vaccination certificate from 1984.

But, it seems to me (as an unqualified, though interested amateur) that the nature of bubonic plague pandemics rather suggests that periodically there is a mutation of the causative agent, ie Y pestis, that is then 'more effective' at overcoming the contemporary human population's built-up resistance. And so another global pandemic ensues ... perhaps a bit like 'flu (although that is a virus whilst Y pestis is a bacillus). But whatever, evolution is ongoing on us all whether virus, bacillus, ... or human.

And this of course suggests that, sooner or later, although perhaps only when environmental conditions are just right, we might get another 'fourth' global pandemic of bubonic plague to which most of us living have very little resistance. I just hope it too hasn't developed resistance to modern antibiotics ... although actually that is extremely unlikely. But nevertheless one should bear in mind that bubonic plague is fundamentally a disease of rodents, and it only spreads into the human population in response to sudden environmental changes .... such as are triggered by say, err , global warming maybe?!?.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sat 01 Dec 2012, 16:00

@Meles meles wrote:
I've always, well at least for many years, thought it was generally accepted that the Plague of Justinian was the 'first' pandemic of Y pestis, the second being that between 1340 and 1700 odd, and the third being the central asian outbreak in the mid 19th century. And although obviously not proven I have seen it suggested that the epidemic described by Thucydides as suddenly appearing during the Peloponnesian War could very well have been Y pestis plague too.

I think it was 'thought' that the Plague of Justinian 'could' to be Y pestis MM, but this is the first time there has been solid scientic evidence that supports the theory, in some way anyway.

It is black rats thought to carry Y pestis right? Why not grey ones as well? Or is it both?
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sun 02 Dec 2012, 08:46

Quite ID, I take your point. It always surprises me a bit, that for a disease with such a huge and widespread influence on human history, there are still so many unresolved questions. A few years ago it was even being suggested that Y pestis was not the causative agent of the Black Death pandemic and that it was more akin to an ebola-type of viral disease.

One always hears plague associated with black rats rather than brown rats, but isn't that largely because brown rats (nowadays the most common rat worldwide) only migrated into Europe from Asia in the 18th century ie after the Black Death. Black rats are actually quite rare these days, at least in Western Europe, having been surplanted by brown rats. And I seem to remember that the natural reservoir for plague is actually thought to be a type of marmot that lives on the asian steppes, and that in the past it was only rarely that plague broke out, transmitted by fleas, to infect other rodents like squirrels and rats, .... and of course humans, hence the occasional sweeping world-wide pandemics. Though of course once an epidemic is underway the bacillus no longer needs marmots, rats ... nor sometimes even fleas, as it can be transmitted human to human.

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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sun 02 Dec 2012, 11:49

I suspect that if there were to be (alternatively "when there is") another major outbreak of plague, the most productive weapon we have against its spread in developed countries is likely to be something like DDT or a similar flea killer.



IIRC (read it in "La Peste", so not necessarily true) the rats die first - so that's the warning to start stealing puss's flea collars and wearing them as bracelets and anklets, perhaps?
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 07 Dec 2012, 08:32

Translated excerp from Boccaccio's The Decameron circa 1353. A detailed account of life in the Middle Ages with graphic and fascinating descriptions of the effects of the plague, both physically and socially.

http://www.themiddleages.net/life/decameron.html
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 07 Dec 2012, 13:40

I've always found it odd that Chaucer doesn't say more about the Black Death; only really mentioned in the Pardoner's Tale.

Perhaps it was just the medieval equivalent of a heart attack - happened all the time, but only to other people??
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 07 Dec 2012, 13:59

The same syndrome has been noted in Ireland with regard to the great famine of the mid 19th century. It was to be several generations before the subject was deemed worthy of anything approaching official or public commemoration in any form despite its huge tragedic impact on that country's society and culture. Popular culture references to the subject, even to this day, are surprisingly sparse, reflecting how it also did not even arise conversationally amongst the survivors. The first serious attempt to analyse its cause and subsequent huge impact in historical terms that I could ever find was the opening chapter of Lyons' classic historical textbook "Ireland Since the Famine", published over a hundred years after the event and still pretty much alone as a comprehensive and dispassionate study of the famine as an event worthy of such analysis.

The recent 150th anniversary commemorations have redressed this imbalance somewhat but it is still an unalterable historical fact that the famine was airbrushed almost completely out of general public consciousness for the best part of a century.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 07 Dec 2012, 14:00

But Chaucer didn't - unlike Boccaccio - actually experience the 1347/8 Black Death first hand - or rather he did, but only as a young boy of only four, five and six years old, when the plague first struck. So it's perhaps as you say, that through his later childhood and adolescence, periodic epidemics of plague were perhaps seen as "just part of the background". But I'm sure Chaucer does make quite a few, albeit oblique, references to the great plague in 'Canterbury Tales', does he not? I'll have to go look.

Also, is it recorded if Chaucer himself lost, say either of his parents, or maybe siblings? .... Again I don't know and I haven't looked this up. But any close familial deaths - or 'miraculous' lack of the same - might well have influenced his personal viewpoint.

And finally I have in the back of my mind that the Black Death, in it's first attack, tended to kill primarily those "in their prime", and often was noted to spare the very aged ... but also the very young, up to about six years old, ie those of about young master Chaucer's age.

Just a thought, but if young Geoff had been born a couple of years or so earlier, he might, for whatever reason, have succumbed too, and we might never have been able to laugh along with the wife of Bath.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 07 Dec 2012, 14:44

@Meles meles wrote:
But I'm sure Chaucer does make quite a few, albeit oblique, references to the great plague in 'Canterbury Tales', does he not? I'll have to go look.


Only in the Pardoner's Tale, MM - honestly -I'll put money on it.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 20:31

Forgot this bit from the General Prologue: it's from the description of the Doctour of Phisyk:

In sangwin and in pers he clad was al,

Lyned with taffata and with sendal;

And yet he was but easy of dispence;

He kepte that he wan in pestilence.*

For gold in phisik is a cordial,

Therfore he loved gold in special.

Seems there were rich pickings to be had in times of plague, espeically for the medical "experts" like the doctor and his friends, the equally canny apothecaries "For ech of hem made other for to winne"/"For each of them helped the other to profit."



(*He kept the money he gained in time of plague.)
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 06:08

Boccaccio touches on the same Temp, there were a lot of quacks around. And I'm sure that people being desperate and frightened would be easy prey.

Which maladies seemed to set entirely at naught both the
art of the physician and the virtues of physic; indeed, whether it was that
the disorder was of a nature to defy such treatment, or that the physicians
were at fault--besides the qualified there was now a multitude both of men
and of women who practised without having received the slightest tincture of
medical science--and, being in ignorance of its source, failed to apply the
proper remedies; in either case, not merely were those that recovered few,
but almost all within three days from the appearance of the said symptoms,
sooner or later, died, and in most cases without any fever or other
attendant malady.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 08:42

There were a lot of Quacks... but then there really wasn't very much even the most learned and sympathetic Doctour of Physick could do except put on a bit of an act by trotting out all the latest (and admittedly expensive) mineral or vegetable gimmicks, to try and raise their patients spirits:

Watre, rubifiying, and boles galle,
Arsenyk, sal armonyak, and brymstoon,
And herbes koude I telle eek many oon,
As egremoyne, valerian, and lunarie.


....although strictly that is part of the Canon Yeoman's diatribe against alchemists rather than apothocaries. But you were right, Temp, I can't find any specific plague references outside of the Pardoner's Tale. But re doctors and their gimmicks how about, (from the Pardoner's introduction at the end of the Physician's Tale):

I pray to God, so save thy gentil cors
And eek thyne urynals and thy jurdones,
Thyn ypocras and eek thy galiones,
And every boyste ful of letuarie
*

*God's blessing on you, (Doctor), not forgetting
Your various urinals and chamber pots,
Bottles, medicaments and cordial tots
And boxes brimming with all panaceas,

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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 11:05

Then again, I would have thought your average 14th century person would have considered their priest rather than their doctor the first line of defence against serious illness. The church certainly thought so and strove to keep physicians in their place. And that place wasn't in the sick room, at least not until the praying was over and the priest had done everything he could.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 11:24

When did the plague doctors start wearing those awful bird-like masks? They'd put the fear of God into anyone:



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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 13:04

Temp, that particular engraving is by Paulus Furst from 1656, the bird doctor costume was supposedly invented by the French physician, Charles de Lorme in 1619.
It looks strange but was actually effective in keeping the doctor free from infection, by sealing him off from the patient, the beak was full of aromatics to prevent "bad air" from penetrating. The miasma theory it was based on was wrong, but the all over protection was effective against germs.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 14:31

@Triceratops wrote:
Temp, that particular engraving is by Paulus Furst from 1656, the bird doctor costume was supposedly invented by the French physician, Charles de Lorme in 1619.
It looks strange but was actually effective in keeping the doctor free from infection, by sealing him off from the patient, the beak was full of aromatics to prevent "bad air" from penetrating. The miasma theory it was based on was wrong, but the all over protection was effective against germs.

Thanks, Trike - didn't know that. The bird doctor always looked medieval to me - a nightmare figure who would be at home in a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape!



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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 15:26

Ah now, the magnificent but somewhat disturbing paintings of Hieronymous Bosch ... I know he lived a century later than the Black Death itself, but nevertheless he does rather capture that sense of mortal fear, chaos and panic when Hell is opened, and the horsemen of the apocalypse and all Satan's demons are unleashed on Earth ... At least it must have seemed something like that to most of Europe's population in 1347. Their world truely turned upside down.

But Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights', .... is it great art? Or is it just the highly imaginative scribblings of a competent artist - albeit stuffed full of religious, secular, moral, classical and contemporary symbolism? But then of course it was presumably commissioned as a religious work since it is was painted directly onto the panels of a portable folding alterpiece. It's in the Prado now but is it known who originally ordered the work?




Fantastic imagery - literally - and more than just competently painted. But I'm rather drifting away from the 'Bubonic Plague' thread and into 'What is Art?' Sorry

Embarassed
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 16:17

Don't be sorry at all, MM, but may I move your post over there? HB is a real puzzle - really interesting, and discussing his weird stuff will make a nice change from me rabbiting on about religious art (which is bound to end in tears!).
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 18:39

Nostradamus's famous plague remedy, and was known to effect a cure in some patients. Possibly the vitamin C content, or the patients were going to survive anyway? From the Treatise on Cosmetics and Conserves, 1555

Part 1 Chapter VIII -- it's the important one giving Nostradamus's
famous plague-remedy! To make the basis for a perfectly good and excellent
aromatic powder whose perfume is not strange, but confers an agreeable and
long-lasting sweetness, though it can only be prepared once a year: Take
one ounce of the sawdust or shavings of cypress-wood, as green as you can
find, six ounces of Florentine violet-root, three ounces of cloves, three
drams of sweet calamus, and six drams of aloes-wood.
Reduce the whole to powder before it spoils.
Next, take three or four hundred in-folded red roses [the recent
Bloomsbury version entitled 'The Elixirs of Nostradamus' repeatedly
translates 'rose rouges incarnées' as 'black orchids'!!], fresh and
perfectly clean, and gathered before dewfall.
Pound them vigorously in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle.
When you are half through pounding them, add to them the above mentioned
powder and immediately pound it all vigorously, while sprinkling on it a
little rose-juice.
When everything is well mixed together, form it into little flat lozenges,
as you would pills, and let them dry in the shade, for they will smell
good.
And note that from this mixture may also be made aromatic soaps, cypress
powder, violet root powder, aromatic balls, perfumes, 'Cyprus birds' and
perfumed waters.
And in order to make the mixture even more excellent, add as much musk and
ambergris as you either can or wish.
If these two are added I do not doubt that you will produce a superbly
pleasant perfume.
Pulverise the said musk and ambergris, dissolving it with rose-juice, then
mix it in and dry in the shade.
Quite apart from the goodness and scent that this mixture lends to the
items and mixtures mentioned above, you only have to keep it in the mouth
a little to make your breath smell wonderful all day.
Or if the breath was stinking, whether as a result of the teeth being
rotten or because of bad smells emerging from the stomach, or because the
person involved had some stinking ulcer somewhere, or some other odd case
that obliged him to flee people's company, keep a little of it in the
mouth without chewing, and it will give out such a good smell that nobody
will be able to tell where it is coming from ['Whence is that goodly
fragrance blowing.'?!].
And in time of Plague, keep it often in the mouth, for there is no smell
better for keeping away the bad and pestiferous air.


The nursery rhyme Ring a Ring a Roses is about the plague, I just found whilst searching around. Referring to the rosette type colourings plague victims develope on the skin.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 19:28

@Islanddawn wrote:
The nursery rhyme Ring a Ring a Roses is about the plague, I just found whilst searching around. Referring to the rosette type colourings plague victims develope on the skin.

Yes I was taught that at school too, but I think that nowadays there are doubts... The song first appeared in print only in 1881, although a similar version was apparently sung to the current tune in the late 18th century. There were also across Europe similar rhymes to much the same tune but often with greatly different words (in a 1790's German version the, "all fall down" is actually "all curtsy"). The first suggested link to the great plague was apparently only made in the early 20th century.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 19:44

That's my understanding too, Meles. And applies to quite a lot of these nursery rhymes which people have linked to political and social events.

Further up someone said the priest was likely to be the first person turned to in plague times. I read not long ago an account of a small English village (which had very good court records still surviving) during the 14th C plague and my memory is of the devout at least making long and rather difficult (wearing bare feet and doing other forms of penance) journeys to the not-very-nearby cathedral or high church to try and obtain saints' relics. But perhaps the stress was on religious help rather than medical because that was recorded more. Or perhaps I have just forgotten the bits about what was used as a preventative or treatment.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 22:31

@Meles meles wrote:
@Islanddawn wrote:
The nursery rhyme Ring a Ring a Roses is about the plague, I just found whilst searching around. Referring to the rosette type colourings plague victims develope on the skin.

Yes I was taught that at school too, but I think that nowadays there are doubts... The song first appeared in print only in 1881, although a similar version was apparently sung to the current tune in the late 18th century. There were also across Europe similar rhymes to much the same tune but often with greatly different words (in a 1790's German version the, "all fall down" is actually "all curtsy"). The first suggested link to the great plague was apparently only made in the early 20th century.

I've seen Ring-a-ring-a-roses ascribed to the plague, typhoid, and typhus. Of the three, typhoid is most prominently marked by rose spots.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Tue 11 Dec 2012, 14:35

The Dance of Death stained glass window from Bern Cathedral, that death will claim everyone regardless of station. The dance of death plays started with the Black Death;

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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Tue 19 Mar 2013, 22:36

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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Wed 20 Mar 2013, 13:52

They're finding some great stuff digging that railway cutting - they could nearly open a museum just with the artefacts so far uncovered.

The plague victims are a terribly important find. Because England and Ireland were at the tail-end of the epidemic as it spread westwards, DNA extracted from the virus which affected the plague bacteria will show which of the strains currently identified in Europe lasted longest and was therefore the real killer in terms of virulence and frequency. Up to now such analysis was not possible based on British and Irish data - previous remains of likely plague victims have unfortunately all been contaminated or allowed to deteriorate to a point beyond which they are useful for this kind of analysis. Finding so many victims in one location and in such good preservation hugely increases the possibility now of at last finding out which of the strains (grouped from previous analysis into French and Dutch groups) was the one that hit the islands. It will also help with understanding therefore the primary modes of transferral by which the disease spread geographically.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sun 01 Sep 2013, 09:37



This map shows the distribution of cases of bubonic plague in Glasgow in the summer of 1900. Of the 36 cases diagnosed, 16 died. Unsurprisingly it was most prevalent in the Gorbals but the spread was halted by extensive rat catching operations and already established procedures for dealing with infectious diseases.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 13 Dec 2013, 09:41

There has been an outbreak in Madagascar;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25348916
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Sat 21 Dec 2013, 11:34

And from the same site, another amusing article on the use of toads and other wierd and wonderful animals for the treatment of the bubonic plague.

http://deathsplaining.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/things-on-buboes/
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 23 Oct 2015, 13:13

@Islanddawn wrote:
Seems the Black Death is older than thought, new evidence suggests that the plague of Justinian could have been the pesky Y.pestis and partially responsible for the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire.
A lot of supposition of course, but prefectly feasible that Y.pestis has been with us a very long time.


Even older than that, ID. This research dates Y.Pestis to the Bronze Age;


http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/oct/22/plague-has-infected-humans-since-bronze-age-dna-study-shows
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 23 Oct 2015, 13:15

The Guardian article is careful to state that the Bronze Age variant appears to have been pneumonic and not beubonic. This is because (and the article does not state this) there is huge debate about whether they are related at all.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 13:16

The Antonine Plague (aka the Plague of Galen) which hit Classical Rome between 165 and 180AD.

Most historians reckon this was an outbreak of Smallpox. Whatever it was, some areas lost one -third of their populations, with the Imperial Army being particularly badly hit.
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Tue 16 Jan 2018, 12:31

Rats were NOT to blame;

Black Death spread by Humans
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PostSubject: Re: Bubonic Plague   Tue 16 Jan 2018, 14:51

And it seems that the 'cocoliztli' epidemic that wiped out 80% of the Aztecs within about 5 years of their first encounter with Cortez and his men was neither smallpox nor measles (as had previously been suggested) but was likely a strain of enteric fever similar to typhoid:

The Guardian - 500 years later, scientists discover what probably killed the Aztecs
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Res Historica History Forum :: The history of people ... :: Health, medicine and care-