The plague – death of the middle ages

Plagues The Plague: The Black Death of the Middle Ages

The plague in the Middle Ages

The plague (Latin"pestis", Plague) is a highly contagious infectious disease that began in the Middle Ages in the mid-14. caused more than 20 million deaths in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. When the plague broke out in 1347, it took a long time to figure out how to prevent it from spreading.

Bie the plague is divided into four manifestations:

  • Bubonic plague (also bubonic plague; Greek bubo "bubonic plague")
  • Plague sepsis
  • Pneumonic plague
  • abortive plague

In an epidemic, all manifestations occur, but bubonic plague and pneumonic plague are most common. Bubonic plague can develop into plague sepsis, which in turn can develop into pneumonic plague.

The bump plague

The bubonic plague is the most common form of the plague. On which Bubonic Plague Sick people get black spots on the skin in the place where they were bitten by a flea infected with the bacterium.

Afterwards, the infected persons develop purulent dark bumps all over the body, which can reach a diameter of up to ten centimeters – hence the name "bubonic plague". It is not uncommon for patients to develop severe fever and aching limbs.

Pneumonic plague

During the Pneumonic Plague bacterium attacks the lungs. Already after a few hours the ill person feels the first sympotoms: Fever and weakness, bloody cough and chest pain as well as shortness of breath and bluish lips are the consequence. Because of the severe coughing, it is not uncommon to also experience vomiting and abdominal pain.

In most cases, pneumonic plague is more severe than bubonic plague because the body’s natural defense barriers are bypassed by a direct lung attack. If left untreated, pneumonic plague leads to death after five days at the latest.

Plague sepsis

The Plague sepsis is a type of blood poisoning and occurs when the bubonic or pneumonic plague bacteria enter the bloodstream. This can happen, for example, when open wounds come into contact with a bacterium.

The pathogens are then distributed in the blood throughout the body. Typical symptoms are very high fever, headache and digestive problems, but also confusion and organ bleeding (hence the name "the black death"). Without medical treatment plague sepsis leads to circulatory failure and the patient dies.

Abortive plague

The abortive plague is a milder variant of the plague. Mild fever and somewhat swollen lymph nodes are typical symptoms of abortive plague. After overcoming an infection, patients are immune to the disease for a while.

The plague in Europe

Since 1347, the plague has been spreading rapidly throughout Europe. Presumably the "Black Death" came by ship crews from the Orient to Europe. The disease raged in Marseille, Paris, and from December 1349 also in London and Frankfurt. At first, there was no cure for the black bubonic plague.

In the beginning, patients suffering from plague were still taken to local hospitals. Later, the houses of the sick people were marked with a cross, and when there was no end in sight to the plague, those affected had to move to shelters outside the cities.

Because only after the death of hundreds of thousands it became clear that the spread of the epidemic could only be contained by isolation. In 1423, the first plague hospital was built in Venice to separate the sick from the healthy Venetian society. The effects of the plague became very noticeable. Famine was particularly severe, as the entire public life collapsed and food became scarce.

In Germany, an epidemic law was passed that forbade people suffering from bubonic plague to have contact with their fellow human beings. Those who dared to take the plague were usually expelled from the city and chased out.

The origin of the plague

Where the plague came from, people in the Middle Ages did not know. Since there was initially no medical explanation, the first theories quickly made the rounds: unfavorable winds, a bad constellation of the planets or contaminated water made people responsible for the plague. The fact that the plague was transmitted by rats and fleas was not yet known in the Middle Ages.

Those responsible for the contaminated water, on the other hand, were quickly identified: The Jews were blamed as well poisoners. Throughout Europe during the plague, they were persecuted, murdered, and Jewish neighborhoods were burned down.

Remedies for the plague

Since people in the Middle Ages were not aware of the origin of the disease, doctors could not determine a safe method of treatment for plague sufferers. However, bloodletting was a common remedy. Blood was taken from the patient by cutting a vein in an attempt to remove the plague germs from the body.

Other patients were given emetics to get the poisonous pathogens out of the body. Today it is known that in the Middle Ages these methods harmed the weak patients even more than they helped them.

To protect themselves from the plague, people in the Middle Ages wore cloths in front of their faces, burned fragrant herbs and sprayed rose water. But even these measures were unsuccessful – the Black Death spread further and further.

The end of the plague

The "Black Death Era ended around the year 1353. Although there were isolated cases of plague in individual regions of Europe in the following years, the first major plague epidemic was considered to be over.

It was not until 1894 that Alexandre Yersin, a doctor from Switzerland, discovered the plague pathogen and developed the first vaccine. The first description of the plague pathogen was given by Alexandre Yersin in a letter he sent to the French Academy of Sciences in 1894. In it Yersin proves that the plague is caused by the same bacterium in humans and animals. The plague pathogen is named after its discoverer: Yersinia Pestis.

Today we know that the plague is a bacterial infectious disease, which in the Middle Ages was transmitted mainly by rats to fleas and from fleas to humans. Since the hygienic conditions in the Middle Ages were very poor and both fleas and rats were part of everyday life, the disease could spread easily.

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