BUBONIC PLAGUE   Leave a comment

DEFINITION: a contagious disease, the most common form of plague, caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis ) transmitted by fleas from infected rats, and characterized by buboes, fever, prostration, and delirium.

Black Death a deadly disease, probably bubonic plague, which devastated Europe and Asia in the 14th cent.

1337: Hundred Years’ War begins. Two basic issues created the antagonism between England and France in the middle of the 14th century: the succession to the French throne and the extent of British possessions in France. In 1336 the flame that lit the fire was French king Philip VI halt of the thriving wool trade between England and France.

The resulting war which would be known as the Hundred Years’ War was not a continual struggle but an intermittent one that actually lasted more than a century. Charles V of France died in 1328 leaving no successor. There were two claimants to the throne: Edward III of England, who was also duke of Guyenne in France; and the count of Valois. A French assembly chose the count, who took the name Philip VI. This could have been the end of the matter, but the new king chose to confiscate Edward’s territory of Guyenne. Edward then asserted his claim to the throne of France by sending an army to Flanders in 1337.

Notable among the events of the war were: the battles of Crecy in 1346 and Agincourt in 1415, both were unexpected victories for the English; the interruption of fighting due to the spread of the bubonic plague in 1348; and the involvement of Joan of Arc inspiring the French to victory at Orleans in 1429. Eventually France won the war, but at great cost to the land and its people. England retained only the city of Calais, which it gave up in 1558.

This long war inspired much literature, including plays by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. Dramatic accounts of St. Joan have proved particularly appealing to audiences.

1347: Black Death. The plague is one of the most devastating diseases that has ever afflicted mankind. It is a highly contagious fever caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis, which is carried by fleas that infest rats.

The plague, commonly called bubonic plague or the Black Death, has been known since ancient times, but the best documented instance was its deadly appearance in Europe in 1347. It raged throughout all of Europe, killing at least one-fourth of the population probably 25 million people. Without understanding how it is spread, people had no defence against the disease. Poor sanitary conditions and the disruption of war only worsened the epidemic.

In Europe the epidemic started in Sicily and was spread by shipboard rats to other Mediterranean ports. It moved to North Africa, Italy, Spain, England, and France. By 1349 it made its way to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries. By 1350 it reached Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

In general, the population of Europe did not recover to its size before the plague until the 16th century, and some towns never recovered. The immediate results of the plague a general collapse of economies, a breakdown of class relationships, and a halt to wartime hostilities forced a massive restructuring of society. It has had a lasting impact on art, literature, and religious thought.

Caused by rod-shaped bacteria Yersinia pestis (Pasteurella pestis), bubonic plague is an acute and severe infection. Plague is initially spread by the bite of a flea from an infected rodent (rat, squirrel), and passed from person to person by mucus droplets spread from coughing. When infected by plague bacteria, a person becomes ill within a few hours to a few days. They spread through the body, causing high fever, swollen lymph nodes, rash, and changes in blood pressure. Other forms of plague are pneumonic, which causes severe pneumonia, and septicaemic All forms of plague are extremely dangerous.

The plague bacteria cause a massive infection that overwhelms the body’s defences When plague is untreated, many victims die within a few days. Treatment is with antibiotics such as tetracycline and streptomycin and is begun immediately when infection from plague is suspected. People are immunized against plague before they travel into areas where plague is endemic (always present). Control of plague requires the control of wild rodents. Insect repellents are used against flea bites.

During the 1300s nearly half the population of Europe was killed by an epidemic of plague. The disease was called the Black Death, which described the dark colour of many victims’ faces after death. Plague still occurs in most of the world, but epidemics such as those of earlier centuries are fortunately not seen. Public health departments of all countries do all they can to avert plague epidemics.

Recommended reading includes ‘The Outline of History’, by H.G. Wells, which was first published in 1920. Volume 2 of the revised edition (1971) of this famous work contains information related to this article. Also recommended is the current edition of ‘The Merck Manual’.

Assisted by Ann Giudici Fettner


Posted 2012/02/05 by Stelios in Education

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